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  • Theresa Downs

Whose Fault Is It? Just What Are Wine Faults, And Are They Important?

We're all familiar with the seven deadly sins (as a reminder: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.). We're a little less familiar with the seven deadly wine faults (well, not so deadly but decidedly unpleasant in some cases). So, what are we talking about when discussing wine faults or flaws, and most importantly, how can you tell if a wine has one, and what can you do about them?

First, a wine fault is not the same as a wine flaw. Flaws in wine are a lot like flaws in people. Sometimes, just like in people, a small difference can make a person endearing and a wine exciting, while at other times, it can be so overpowering one runs from the person or disposes of the wine quickly. So, in other words, wine flaws are not considered normal for the wine but are minor enough that the wine is still drinkable. On the other hand, a wine fault is such a deviation from the normal characteristic of the wine that it causes the wine to be undrinkable.

So, without further ado, here are the seven deadly wine faults:


What is It? Wine is intentionally kept from being exposed to oxygen or air. The wine doesn't have enough oxygen to have its molecules combine, and it is literally gasping for air (poor wine).

How can you tell? The wine will have distinctive skunky, stinky, sulfurous smells that remind you of eggs, burnt matchheads, or stink bombs and swamp gas; you'll feel like you're standing next to Old Faithful.

How can you fix it? Exposing the wine to air by placing it in a decanter for a spell may help. Stirring the wine with silver may also help (a cocktail stir may do the trick). If it's really bad, consider returning the bottle of wine.


What is it? Opposite of Reduction, the wine has been unintentionally overexposed to oxygen. The oxygen reacts with the alcohol in the wine, converting it to acetaldehyde and acetic acid. This fault can occur during the production process of the wine or by a bad closure.

How can you tell? Both white and red wine will have a brownish tint. White wine will start taking on nutty aromas and flavors. Red wine will start to smell and taste like vinegar.

How can you fix it? Okay, we're talking about a new bottle of wine you've just opened, not one sitting around for a week. New bottles can't be fixed, so promptly return them.

Volatile Acidity:

What is it? This is one of the most common wine faults, also known as vinegar taint. Volatile Acidity, or VA as affectionally known, is caused by various yeasts and bacteria that can infiltrate the wine at any stage of winemaking. These yeasts and bacteria create acetic acid, the same acid that makes vinegar. Excessive amounts of VA are associated with poor grapes, poor winery hygiene, oxidative processes, or a combination of all of the above. Too much, and you automatically start puckering up; a little can be interesting.

How can you tell? Wine has the distinct taste and odor of balsamic vinegar. Great on a salad, not so much in wine.

What can you do? Winemakers have fancy schmancy means at their disposal to remedy, but consumers will probably opt to return the bottle (and should).

Moldy Wine:

What is It? Microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC) have infiltrated the wine; this fault almost always occurs from poor production practices, moldy grapes, or improper sanitation,

How Can You Tell? Very unpleasant odors of moldy, basement, and swamp are usually the indicators that something is up with the wine and not in a good way.

How to fix it? Unfortunately, there are several remedies that you can find online, and they probably won't work. I recommend returning the bottle to the cellar unless you want to play mad scientist to fix it on your own.

Smoke Taint

What is it? As the name suggests, this is the wine that has been affected by exposure to smoke in the vineyard and/or surrounding area. Volatile compounds in the smoke can be absorbed by grapes and produce an unpleasant taste known as "smoke taint" in wines made from affected grapes. With the increase in fires, this has become a much bigger concern.

How can you tell? Wine tastes and smells like ashtray, campfire, or smoked fish; in severe cases of exposure to smoke, the wine will have an unpleasant, acrid taste and smell.

How to fix it? You can't. Severely affected grapes will not be processed into wines unless the wine can be made with little contact with the affected grape skins. So it becomes a case of whether you can tolerate a small amount of smoke. Actually, some wines can be delightful with a bit of smoke on the palate.

Brettanomyces or Brett

What is it? A type of yeast that is literally everywhere during wine production. It's in the air, on the grapes (it's partial to grape skins), in the barrels, and in the winery itself. And, as scary as this might sound, it's a good thing. In the olden days, Brett was much more prevalent, but since sanitation has vastly improved, it is not so prevalent today.

How can you tell: Generally, Brettanomyces has a distinctive barnyard- manure, and stables odor (as if someone forgot to clean the barn for a week).

How can you fix it? Some grape varietals are more prone to Brettanomyces and actually is prized in some wines. While Brett is a non-starter in white wines, some wines such as Tempranillo and, Grenache, Mouvedre are lovely with a touch of Brett.

Trichloroanisole (TCA)/Corked Wine

What is it? Trichloroanisole is a chemical compound (2,4,6- Trichloroanisole, to be exact). The compound is caused by fungi interacting with natural cork (hence the name "corked wine") but can also be present in oak barrels. TCA is a deadly fault as it will ruin the wine.

How can you tell? Wine will smell like old musty newspapers, wet dogs or cardboard, or better yet, wet bandages. The wine will taste muted. Pretty gross.

How to fix it? Old Saran Wrap formula, polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) would bind with TCA taint and remove it from the why. Unfortunately, Dow Chemical (manufacturers of Saran Wrap) no longer makes a formula with this component, so your only option is to return the bottle.

So there you have it – the seven wine faults. As with most everything, with the exemption of a few faults like TCA, most of the others add a little zing to the wine. So even a little bad thing can be a good thing!


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