Ask A Sommelier!

Dear Mr. Rory:

How do I tell when wine has gone bad?

The goal of fine wine is to achieve harmonious balance
of fruit, mineral/earth, acid, tannin, and body.
Faults can be noted by the presence of odd aromas or
flavors, and also by the lack of balance.

One way to know if a wine is 'off' is to be familiar
with the wine. If you know the wine, or have had it
more than one time in the past, then you should have a
reasonable reference. However, there is what is known
as bottle variation, and wine can change with time, so
lack of consistency does not always mean that the wine
has gone bad.
It also helps to know about some common faults.

The most common fault is cork taint, or
TCA, which can
overpower a wine with a wet cardboard aromas, and also
subjugate the fruit character of the wine. TCA
sensitivity varies among individuals and can be very
slight or fairly obvious.

Other faults:
Volatile - extreme presence of volatile acids, usually
acetic acid, and can accompany the presence of ethyl
acetate. The wine can start to resemble vinegar or
nail polish remover.

Oxidative - exposure to oxygen. First clue is color
changing toward brown. White wines will become
darker, red wines lighter. Flavors move from fruity
to nutty, with metallic mineral qualities. Eventually
fruit will be undetectable. This is the flaw to watch
out for when you cellar wine and want to know if the
wine is 'past it's prime'. Heat damage may be a
factor in premature oxidation of a wine.

Reductive - the opposite of oxidation, or the lack of
oxygen contact with the wine can also cause problems,
particularly a dominant sulfur component. This may
smell like rotten eggs or rubber tires, or match
stick. Sulfur may blow off with time, though there is
another trick to rid the wine of this flaw using a
copper penny. Copper will react with Hydrogen Sulfide
to produce Copper Sulfide, which is

Brettanomyces (Brett) - is one form of taint
attributed to use of old oak or
generally unsterile
wine making conditions. In old world wines of the
past Brett was a common feature of wines aged in old,
dirty barrels. Band aid, sweaty saddle notes are

There are many possible faults in a wine. If you open
a wine and it seems odd, wait a few minutes to see if
the strange quality disappears.
If not, open another bottle of the same, or try
something different. Wine is for you to enjoy, so
find a bottle that works and have fun.
Thanks for your question! Looking forward to more! Don't be nervous or afraid! Ask us questions... that is what we are here for!