So you know whether to dump it or drink it
Do I like the wine, do I not like the wine? For some of us, finding “fault” in wine is this simple. But if you’re looking to expand your wine knowledge and invest in your wine collection, there a few common wine faults that are worth knowing to avoid suffering through bad wine.
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Look out for a faded or brown-hued colour, and a wine that smells dusty or lacks fruit on the nose, and freshness, structure and complexity on the palate.
It’s important first off to state that there is a big difference between older wines and old wine, and knowing how a well-matured wine smells and tastes is a great start to understanding this difference. You may have heard wine characters referred to as “primary” and “secondary” by a winemaker or your most nerdy wine-loving friend, and matured or older wines may express fewer primary characters such as fruit but will still be textural and complex, and interesting to drink. Take aged Bordeaux or Cabernet for example: its colour may have faded and its tannins softened, but its more textural and earthier characters will continue to charm.
In comparison, old wine will show very little of anything at all. With a range of differences in palates and preferences, there are certainly no hard rules around when a wine is too old, but if it seems tired or doesn’t express any of the character you expected, you may have hung onto it for just a little too long.
Volatile Acidity or “VA”
Look out for a wine that smells as if you could remove your nail polish or dress your salad with it (so that’s acetone or vinegar).
Like Brettanomyces, volatile acidity divides wine drinkers into “sometimes, yes” and “never, no”, because it can be used by winemakers to add particular character to wines. It’s the result of a combination of compounds, mainly ethyl acetate and acetic acid, which are present in all wines but are only viewed as a fault when it reacts with the alcohol to create that unpleasant nail polish remover aroma.
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Whether you should drink wines with present VA, it comes down to how dominant it is and how it works with the balance of the wine. For example, in small measures, VA can boost a lighter style red wine with spritzy, fermented fruit aromas. As a category, you’re more likely to find it in natural wines than anywhere else, and this tangy, sometimes sour, element can add great interest when used sparingly. But if this description alone turns you off – then VA-present wines probably aren’t for you!
Don’t forget: professional establishments can suffer flawed wines too. If you ever order a wine by the glass and receive something that just doesn’t smell or taste right, don’t be afraid to ask how long it’s been open or get the staff to check the wine themselves.