Can you spot a corked wine?

There are fewer First World problems more upsetting than opening a bottle of yummy wine to find it’s faulty. With a faulty bottle we often refer to it as being ‘corked’ but can you spot a bottle whats below par?

Are you able to identify when a wine is faulty rather than you just don’t like it? Would you be confident enough to send a bottle back? If not, you should be! Here’s how you can spot a wine that should be replaced.

What is a ‘corked’ wine?

For the scientists out there, this wine fault is caused by trychloroanisole (abbreviated as TCA) which is a chemical that can be found in cork which contaminates the wine and gives it the very unpleasant aroma of wet dog or mouldy basement. If the wine smells like Larry the Labrador after a dip in the local pond, send the bottle back. It’s estimated that up to 2% of wines with corks have some level of TCA contamination.

Can screw cap wines be ‘corked’?

Unfortunately, yes though it’s significantly less likely. While corks are the most common sources of TCA contamination, TCA can also infect barrels within a winery which means entire batches can be ruined. 

Pretty doggy, nasty wine smell

Pretty doggy, nasty wine smell

Other wine faults

Corked wine is actually the second most common wine fault. The others that you should be beckoning to your wine waiter about are:

Oxidisation: the most common wine fault, this occurs when the wine has had too much exposure to oxygen. A wine that is oxidised loses its colour which is more noticeable in reds that take on a brown hue. The wine tastes bitter which is more obvious in white wines that don’t have the tannins to hide it as well as red. If you’ve ever tasted a wine at home that’s been open for a few days you’ll notice the difference caused by oxidisation, it’s not pleasant!

Sulphur: sulphur is commonly added to wines as a means to preserve flavour and integrity. Occasionally, due winemaker error, too much is added and the wine is completely thrown out of balance. In this case, the wine will smell like a fart in a glass with unattractive notes of rotten egg. Not a keeper.

Cooked wine: wine is sensitive to temperature variation and, if not stored properly, this can significantly impact its taste. A cooked wine is where the wine has been exposed to too-high temperatures and is ruined as a result. It will taste jammy and artificially sweet with nothing else going on. 

‘Faults’ that are not really faults

Often people freak out necessarily when they see ‘stuff’ floating around in the bottom of the bottle. Bits in the bottom of the bottle do not necessarily equate to a dodgy wine!

Sediment: For red wines, particularly older ones, there is often some sediment left over from the winemaking process. This red deposit will collect at the end of the bottle and the wine should be decanted prior to serving to ensure that this gritty but harmless residue does not make it into the glass. 

Unfiltered wines: Most wines go through a fining / filtering process to remove the insoluble bits left over from the wine making process. These particles are not harmful but, if they are left in, the wine can appear cloudy which many winemakers feel is unappealing for the consumer. Some winemakers believe that the removal of these elements reduces the flavour of the wine and are producing ‘unfiltered’ wines as a result. This approach is more common with red wines and expect them to be a little cloudy. A cloudy wine that is not unfiltered should be treated with suspicion.

Crystals: In some white wines, you may notice some glass like crystals in the bottom of the bottle. Again this is nothing to freak out about as it is caused by high mineral wines and appear with age. Just decant prior to serving to ensure they don’t end up in the glass.

Too many people are reluctant to demand a new bottle when the one they open is faulty. If in doubt, ask the retailer to sample. All reputable businesses will replace a faulty wine so don’t suffer in silence. If in doubt, ask; question why the wine tastes / smells poor but don’t ignore it!

How to chill your wine fast!

There's nothing worse than a clammy Chardonnay on a hot summers evening so here's some pointers on how to cool it quickly.

Option 1 - old fashioned ice bucket

Or just a bucket with some ice in it. Though the clever stuff is make sure that you have water as well as ice as this will increase contact levels with the bottle. The icing on the cake if you do this option is to add some salt; this reduces the freezing point of water allowing for more effective cooling. Who would have realised that science classes would pay off.

Option 2 - stick it in the freezer

A common plan during a house party to panic freeze wine by hiding it under the frozen peas only to find shards of Chardonnay and glass in the freezer drawer the next morning.... This option needs to be managed with care (and a timer!). The trick here is to wrap the bottle in a wet tea towel before putting it into the freezer and in 10-20 mins your wine is perfectly drinkable.

Option 3 - one for the gadget freaks

There are more sophisticated ways of getting your wine at the right temperature including electric wine coolers that will set you back £40-60. A cheaper alternative that actually performs pretty well is the Vacu Vin Rapid Ice which can chill a wine in minutes and keep it cool for hours. Cost from £10 and looks quite stylish as well.