Mary Orlin gave a run down on how to spot tainted, corked or just plain bad wine. I’ve distilled down her article to reveal the six chemical signatures that tell you your wine stinks:
Oxidized – The wine will smell stale, burnt marshmallows, nutty, sherry-like or of stewed fruit. The ethanol in the wine has probably been exposed to air for a prolonged period and is heading towards ethanoic (acetic) acid, better known as vinegar.
Volatile acidity – If your wine’s bouquet smells of nail-polish remover (acetone) or vinegar it has “volatile acidity” caused by bacterial spoilage. It’s off. Spit it out.
Sulfur – Wine makers often use sulfites as preservatives (which can be irritating to asthma sufferers and others) but if your wine smells of rotten eggs, there’s hydrogen sulfide in there, or dimethyl sulfide, and that’s bad. The wine is literally rotten.
Brettanomyces — If your quaffing reminds you of taking cherry cough syrup, sticking plasters or the farmyard, then it’s got brett – a yeast infection caused by Brettanomyces. Some old world wines have a tiny whiff of brett, which some connoisseurs enjoy, but if your wine reminds you of a wet horse blanket, probably best to get another bottle.
Cork taint – Many people don’t know when their wine is corked, but if you know the smell of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, TCA, then you will recognise corked wine. It’s a mouldy, musty, wet newspaper, dank basement, smell, a bit like brie cheese or a wet shaggy dog. Send it back.
Sulfites – Sulfites prevent bacterial contamination, but they do give a sulfurousness to the aroma and taste of wine, ans like I said, can be problematic for some people. Best avoided, but not a real problem unless you react or cannot get past the smell/taste.
- A chemist employs his analytical skills in the wine industry (cenblog.org)
- Variance in the sensor (winebookclub.org)