Common Wine Faults and Flaws
Is a Natural Wine Always a Flawed Wine?
I love natural wines. Heck, I sell natural wines! It is my job to promote natural wines. Most customers I sell to are very open to trying something new, whether it is a new grape, region, or wine style for them. I answer questions about the difference between natural and conventional wines, how the wines are made, who makes them, organics and biodynamics, etc. There are times I debunk some preconceived notions about natural wine. One of the most important of those notions is that a natural wine is a “faulty” or “flawed” wine.
Any Wine Can Be a Faulty or Flawed Wine
Any wine can be faulty whether it is conventional or natural. Any wine can have flaws, but may not be faulty or undrinkable. Some people may even appreciate a flaw when others do not. Let’s take a look at two faults and two flaws you may encounter when drinking wine.
That Wine is CORKED!
Have you had a wine that smelled like your grandad’s old musty attic or wet cardboard? If you have, then you have smelled TCA, or cork taint.
TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) is a microbial spoilage in a cork, but may be found in a winery’s environment. If it is marginal, the wine smells musty and regular aromas will be muted. If the spoilage is major the wine will be completely off-putting and undrinkable. It is estimated that 3-5% of all wine sealed with a cork is affected by TCA. There is nothing that can save a cork tainted wine. It’s a major fault and a lost cause. Those screw caps and crown caps don’t look so bad now, huh?
Natural wines that are bottled without sulfur dioxide (SO2) may have a strange fault called “mouse”. Mouse, or mousiness, is a strange fault in that you cannot detect it by smell, but only when the wine is actually on your palate. The taste here is like a mouse/gerbil cage or “puppy breath”; a sweet, musty taste/aroma on the palate. Mouse is caused by a combination of lactic acid spoilage, high pH in the wine, and a lack of SO2 in the wine. Some people do not find this as a fault at all (they are nuts) and some cannot spot mousiness at all. Some SO2-free wines may not show mouse right away but the fault will show up hours or a day after opening. Of all the wines I have tasted in the last year, I can count on one hand instances of mouse. My suggestion is if you are drinking SO2-free wine, finish it off and don’t give the mouse a chance.
Who Invited Brett?
If you have heard me describe a wine aroma as “taking a walk through the country”, I am relating the wine to the aromas you may find on a farm: sweat, barnyard, horsey, etc. This is Brettanomyces, commonly known as “Brett.” Brettanomyces is a spoilage yeast encouraged by high pH and low SO2, mostly in red wines and sparkling wines. It was once viewed as a lack of cleanliness in a winery. However, more research has shown that the yeast can just normally live in the vineyard and winery just like any other native yeast. Brett may be seen as a fault, a flaw, or a welcomed accent to a wine depending on how much it shows up and the preferences of the wine drinker. I personally like a little Brett in a wine as much as I like a walk on a farm. I think it can enhance a red wine’s aromas and taste profile. Yet I also know that too much Brett can be off-putting and make the wine undrinkable and therefore a flaw.
VA Wasn’t Invited to the Party Either!
Another flaw you may encounter if volatile acidity, or VA. Volatile acidity is the formation of acetic acid and related compounds by bacteria in the winemaking process. These formations may smell like vinegar, varnish, or nail polish remover. At low levels, volatile acidity can “lift” the aromas on the nose and be a positive note in the wine. It really depends if the wine is in balance. If the wine is not in balance, you will find those objectionable notes coming through more. This is one of the most common flaws that may not be a flaw in the right wine.
Here’s the simple truth: the vast majority of the wines you taste and drink on your journey through life will not be flawed or faulty. There may be wines you do not like, yet they can be perfectly fine and not flawed. You can have a wine that is flawed and you may think it is nectar of the gods. Thinking about wine flaws and faults is not something to spend too much brain power on.
However, if you do encounter a faulty wine that we sold you, always bring it back and I will be happy to replace it.