I was recently asked the difference between an oxidized wine and a corked wine. I answered the question using the best knowledge I could from what I have experienced over the years.
Although I was not wrong, double checking my answer later that evening I discovered there are many variables that can cause a bad or faulty wine. This is a very common question asked to wine professionals and it gave me an idea of what I would like to share with you.
After hours of research I was amazed how many faults in wine making there actually are and that some actually benefit the wine! Case in point, remember the movie "Bottle Shock"? They found an imperfection in their wine that turned it brown and later it turned back to normal. This occurs when a wine is transferred and exposed to oxygen, then bottled and corked. It does not mean the wine has oxidized but, rather, the small amount of oxygen helped during maturation to make a great wine. It needs to breathe and then rest. Pretty cool, huh!
There are basically four things that can comprise defects in a bottle of wine and therefore be sent back. These for things are: corked, oxidized, maderized or refermented.
Corks are natural products of the earth, and like everything else, some microorganisms and chemicals like to eat away at them. The principle cause of a corked or tainted wine is the presence of TCA, or Tri-Chloro-Anisole. Corks containing TCA have a very musky smell, sometimes described as a wet dog, a gym bag with old sweaty cloths, a wet basement, or a moldy newspaper. Pretty nasty aromas to the human nose, and for the palette you will notice a lack of fruit with musky finish. Yuk!
I also want to mention that it is a myth that you can detect a corked wine by smelling the cork. Corks smell funky anyway!
Oxygen is an adversary to wine. When wine is exposed to air it becomes oxidized. Your wine will taste flat and lifeless and, if exposed too long, will start turning into vinegar. You will also notice a change in the color. In white wines it can be light to dark yellow or even brownish. In reds it's a bit harder to see but you will notice a pale brown-brick color.
Heat is another huge enemy to wine. Sometimes called "cooked" or "baked" wines, this happens when wine is exposed to extreme temperatures. The bottle becomes pressurized causing the cork to be pushed up which allows air to enter and oxidize the wine. You will also often notice that cork will have bled through to the top in most cases. The flavor of the wine will be overly nutty and candied. By the way this how the dessert wine Madeira is created!
This one is fun! I was first exposed to a refermented wine a couple of years ago and was excited to learn what was going on! Wine is a living creature and a product of controlled fermentation. On occasion, some residual, dormant yeast will become active again and the wine will undergo a second fermentation process in the bottle. The result of this fermentation process is the wine will become effervescent, fizzy and bubbly. We do not want this to happen with still fine wine. But if you are curious on how a blind Benedictine Monk by the name of Dom Perignon created Champagne, this was how!
The only way to discover these flaws is to experience them. If you are unsure, ask your wine professional before you send a wine back. Don't think a wine is bad just because it tastes funny to you. Also use the always fail safe tool of testing the Color, Clarity, Body, Nose and Character. The only rule in wine is "If you like it drink it."
Remember all great wine is best when shared with great company! Happy sipping!
The Rock & Roll Wine Commando
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