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As the late Peter Sichel once said, wine is an intermediate phase between sweet grape juice and vinegar, and it is up to the winemaker to ensure that is a stable phase. And as such, this intermediate phase should be an expression of the grape and the area in which it is grown. Any faults in the wine inhibit this expression. Faults in wine are avoidable, and generally derive from poor decisions in the winery. Below is a list of just a few faults that you might find in wine, what they taste like and how they’ve come about.
Oxidation: Excessive exposure to oxygen. Premature browning in colour, loss of fresh, fruity aromas and a bruised apple character on the nose. Protecting the wine from oxygen prior to and during bottling and use of sufficient sulphur dioxide (SO2) in the bottle.
Reduction: Sulphides are varied. The most common is hydrogen sulphide (H2S), which can be created by stressed yeasts during fermentation and by contact with lees (dead yeast cells) after fermentation. Dirty taste and often a smell reminiscent of rotten eggs. Ensure the yeasts are not stressed.
If H2S does develop prior to bottling, aeration and copper fining are the best ways of dealing with it.
Brettanomyces: A spoilage yeast, particularly prevalent in oak aged wines. A smell of sweaty horses or ‘Elastoplast’. Masks the clear expression of the varietal and makes the wine dry and hard on the palate. Is present in all wineries so control is vital. Steaming barrels, hygiene and use of SO2 are vital. Cork Taint (TCA) Produced by mould spores on contaminated corks. A musty smell of rotting apples and mouldy cellars that destroys the character of the wine. Alternative closures (synthetic cork, screwcap, Vinolok).