Wine 101: Finding Wine Faults

We’ve all been there. Whether you’re excited to open a wine you haven’t tried before or, well, you just need it at the end of a long day, you pull the cork or twist the cap and… “Can that be right?”

Yup, wines are susceptible to all kinds of faults and flaws, but how can you be sure if the one in your hands has fallen victim? Here are three of the major wine faults you’ll come across, and if you spot ‘em and still have your proof of purchase ­– you can usually return them without hassle.

Brettanomyces or ‘Brett’

This one is best described as a fungal, horsey, gamey or ‘wild’ aroma. Brett is a yeast than can spoil a wine. It can come from grape skins or be present in winery equipment; it particularly loves getting comfy in older barrels. Some folks love a hint of it in their wines, it can provide some pretty cool character, but at extreme levels it’s quite off-putting. Also, wines built to age that have elements of it will see it increasingly pronounced over time.

TCA or Cork Taint (2,4,6-trichloroanisole)

“This wine is corked!” you’ll hear. In most cases the cork is what’s responsible, but it can happen in screw-cap wines as well. Cork taint is obvious by the smell of a dank basement, wet cardboard or old, musty newspapers. The chemical compound is usually the result of faulty corks, but can adhere itself to winery equipment as well.

Volatile Acidity                 

This is a very obvious one that has the smell of vinegar, nail polish remover or paint thinner. It’s caused by bacteria in a wine that creates acetic acid, which is the big aroma you get from vinegar. It’ll occur straight from the fruit, but winery equipment, barrels or even yeasts can harbour the bacteria as well. When it’s in check, in can lift some positive aromas in wine, but when it gets out of control, it’ll smell like someone’s cleaning your windows.

These are all quite rare, but they do happen. I taste thousands of wines every year and maybe a dozen or two that I come across ever show any evidence of these faults. Hopefully you won’t need this knowledge anytime soon!


Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. He’s not half as fancy/boring as that sounds. He Tweets and Instagrams @KurtisKolt.

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