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Common Wine Defects

by Staff Writer - B. Shaughnessy | February 09, 2012

As with most things found in our lives, technology has allowed human kind to move forward and live better lives. This can be seen in every facet of daily life. Technology has allowed humankind to communicate with people around the world as well as down the street. It has led to efficiencies in the cars that we drive and the products we buy. With respect to the wine industry, technology has advanced winemaking from an art form into a science. Problems seen in wines 10 to 20 years ago are much less common in wines produced today. This is the direct result of technological advances concerning modern winemaking techniques.

Technology has also led to a greater education of the general public. Today the general public has the knowledge of the world at their fingertips. The Internet has allowed the general public to share ideas and learn new things much faster than at any other point in history. This of course is a good thing, especially for wineries. Wineries can target potential consumers with efficiencies unheard of even 10 years ago. Serious wine consumers can also utilize the Internet along with traditional methods for researching wines to buy. The end result is a much better educated and satisfied customer.

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As customers come to expect certain things from the wine they purchase, they are naturally disappointed when they discover a defect with the purchased wine. It is appropriate to assume that when dealing with wine defects the consumer should not pay for a damaged product. In addition to this, the winery will want feedback on any damaged product in order to correct the issue that led to the damaged product. A common problem is that with the willingness to please the customer, wine retailers often fail to accurately convey specific problems back to the winery.

One of the best ways to avoid wine defects is to perform research when purchasing wine. One mindset that can lead to problems is the fact that many consumers believe that all wines further develop as they age. Unfortunately this does not hold true with most modern wines. It is true that certain wines mature over time, but the majority of modern wines are produced for quick consumption. This is further complicated by packaging mediums that lend themselves to rapid oxidation. Bag-in-the-box wines are a prime example of this problem.

The educated consumer will look at shelf life as well as their specific needs when purchasing a wine. Many wineries are now printing "best if used by" dates on bottles of wine. Taking this into account will lead to an avoidance of problems with wines that are past their shelf life.

Even with the advancements in winemaking technology, wine defects still on occasion make it to the bottle sold to the consumer. Although modern winemaking techniques have significantly reduced defects, wines on occasion still show signs of defects. Wine defects include oxidation, formation of crystals, the presence of foreign bodies, musty taint, volatile acidity, a second fermentation, iron casse, copper casse and mousiness & geranium smells.

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Oxidation of wine occurs when the oxygen barrier of the packaging medium is compromised. Immediately after this occurs, the anti-oxidant compounds within the wine are depleted and the quality of the wine begins to degrade. Indications of an oxidized wine include the loss of color. White wines become dull brown, red wines become pale often with a brown rim and rosé wines become a pale orange color. In addition to the changes in color, the palate of the wine changes as well. Wines lose their fresh characteristics and often take on caramel and meaty characteristics.

More than anything else, customer preferences have led to a negative view on crystal formation within wine. While many consumers believe that the presence of crystals could potentially be fragments of a shattered wine bottle, the reality is that crystal formation is a completely natural and harmless process. Crystal formation is often the result of wine stabilization techniques being ineffective at removing crystal formations. Wineries employ various checks for crystal formation. If crystal formation is detected, the wine will be put through the stabilization process again. The fact that crystal formation is often held with disdain results in many fine bottles of wine being returned for a refund.

The presence of foreign bodies in wine is a serious quality issue that occasionally arises. Foreign objects in wine include flying insects, human hairs, small glass particles from malformed and chipped wine bottles and even filling nozzles that have worked loose from the loading machine. As with any defect, the customer has every right to return the defective wine for a refund or exchange.

Wines that possess a musty and almost autumn-like taint are most likely the victims of what is generally known as cork taint. This defect is caused by small molds reacting with chlorine. It is important to realize that cork taint in many cases is not caused by the cork itself but other variables. While the tainted wine is overall harmless it is quite undrinkable and must be returned for a refund.

Wines that have a high level of volatile acidity display characteristics that make them undrinkable. High levels of volatile acidity are attributed to careless and improper procedures used during the winemaking and filling processes. Wines affected by a high volatile acidity present characteristics including the smell of acetone and the taste of vinegar.

If a winery fails to remove all microorganisms from a specific wine, a second fermentation can result within the wine bottle. Second fermentations negatively affect sweet white wines. This is due to the fact that the process of a second fermentation converts any residual sugars into alcohol. A second fermentation changes and damages the overall character of the wine. Other problems such as exploding wine packages are known to occur with second fermentations.

Iron casse and copper casse problems are characterized by visible precipitations viewed within the wine bottle. In the case of iron casse, a white precipitation is visible on the bottom of the bottle. This precipitation is harmless and can be dealt with by decanting the wine. Copper casse problems present themselves as a brown haze within an unopened wine. Upon opening and serving a wine with copper casse, the brown haze typically disappears. This is due to chemical reactions occurring when wine is removed from the anaerobic environment found within the sealed wine bottle. Copper casse wines should be shied away from as excess copper can pose a health risk.

In addition to the problems mentioned above, wines can develop bacterial contaminations that render them undrinkable. A mousiness scent on the nose & aftertaste of a wine is an indication that a wine was the product of poor hygiene and has been infected with the yeast of the Brettanomyces genus or a lactic acid bacterium. Wines that display a geranium smell are the culprits of a lactic acid bacterium reacting with a wine containing sorbic acid. The geranium smell renders the wine undrinkable and as is the case with the effects reviewed in this article, the consumer should return the wine for a refund or an exchange.

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