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09.25.2013

The Essence of Wine: Flaws

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Image © 2013 Leigh Beisch

The essence that is not an essence. Universally unloved, the flaws in wine are as insidious as they are unwanted, and come in many forms. The sharp vinegar and acetone tang of volatile acidity; the rotten eggs reduction; the overly nutty or balsamic note of oxidation; the sweaty socks, garlic and stinky cheese of mercaptans; the wet dog or manure of brettanomyces yeast; and yes, the all-too-common wet cardboard or wet band-aid aroma of cork taint. All too be avoided rather than celebrated. But knowing the difference between a faulty bottle and a wine that you just don't like remains harder than you might think. Levels of sensitivity to these compounds vary among individuals, and to make matters worse, in tiny amounts they don't always ruin a wine. A modicum of volatile acidity and brettanomyces are even coveted by some winemakers (and their customers) as a distinct element of either their terroir or their intended style. One drinker's rustic wine is another's sewer of bacteria, or so it seems. Learning to recognize these flaws is a useful skill for anyone who enjoys wine, but this proves not so easy to do outside of a classroom. Serious students of wine should spend at least one afternoon subjecting themselves to sometimes-gag-inducing levels of these delightful monsters at some point in their careers. Know thine enemy, or so the saying goes.


You didn't really expect me to recommend faulty wines, did you?

Pay attention to how your wines smell and taste, and never pass up the opportunity to smell and taste a little of a wine that someone around you has identified as flawed. The more exposure you get to such wines, the more you will be able to spot them on your own. My personal experience is that my sensitivity to cork taint in particular has dramatically increased over time, and I know others who have experienced the same.

Most wine education programs will include a session on wine faults, which can be invaluable for anyone looking to experience the range of things that can go wrong in a wine. I highly recommend these experiences.

This is part of an ongoing series of original images and prose called The Essence of Wine

Comments (1)

Mary wrote:
09.26.13 at 9:36 AM

I love this post!
Several years ago I was managing a winery and would get excited if I happened to opened up a corked wine in the evening. My husband would always look at me strangely and ask, "why are you so excited about corked wine?" and would say, "because I can bring it in to the tasting room tomorrow and share it with the staff". Our wines weren't produced with natural cork, so many of our employees had never experienced this. So I would bring in the flawed wine and have them smell it and familiarize themselves with the scent. I would also encourage them to share it with customers that came in who had never smelt a corked wine. I agree that it's important to familiarize yourself with these flaws so you know the difference between a funky wine and a flawed one.
Thanks for this great explanation to why!

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