How to spot a bad wine
When a waiter brings the bottle of wine to the table and offers you the cork, do you sniff it? What do you do with that splash of wine he pours into your glass? Why doesn't he just deliver the wine you ordered, place it on the table and walk away?
This is your opportunity to ensure the wine is not only the one you ordered, but also that the bottle has not been ruined by improper storage or by wild bacteria and fungus. And since it takes only a sip to determine of the wine is good, that is how much is placed in your glass to start. But how will you know if the wine is good or bad? The first test is simple, smell it. If the smell of the wine does not invite you in for a sip it is most likely spoiled. Here are the most common things that make a wine taste terrible.
These are wines that have come in contact with wild fungus that produces a cbhemical named TCA. Depending on how long the wine has been in contact with the fungus, the aroma can be only faintly noticeable to striking. If you detect any mustiness, like your basement or wet cardboard, you have a corked wine. On the fainter side of the spectrum you may notice a wine you regularly drink is missing much of the aroma of fruit or berries, and that the nose is generally lifeless. Since upwards of 5% of wines using real corks can be infected, do not hesitate to send a wine back that does not seem right.
Improper storage, especially exposure to excessive heat, can quickly destroy a wine. This is quite often a problem in restaurants where storage space is limited and done near the kitchen, and is more prevalent during summer months when distributors may allow wine to get heated during delivery. The first thing you may notice about these wines is the cork appears to protrude over the lip of the bottle. Or the capsule (or the foil) looks like it is bulging. When the sommelier hands you the cork, don't sniff it, rather look for signs that wine has escaped around the sides of the cork, another good sign of cooking. This break in the sealing can also lead to another issue addressed later, oxidation.
While cooked wine is great if you have just ordered Coq Au Vin, it is not acceptable in your glass. These wines will present themselves as dull with no aroma of fruit, berries, or other esters left at all. They will even taste as though they have been on the stove, with flavors resembling a stew, and body that is very thin and lifeless.
While a small amount of oxidation may be desirable in aging wines for a long time to aid in tannin breakdowns, too much will ruin a bottle. Natural cork may let very small amount of air interact with the wine in the bottle over years, but a poor sealing cork will let so much air in the wine will be left tasting like cheap sherry. If you have spotted a break in the seal of the cork, oxidation is more likely to have occurred. Oxygen is a highly reactive element and quickly changes the components of the wine. In addition to the sherry like flavors, be alert for a noticeably brown color of the wine when viewed.
Wines that have been stored for a long time, many years like Bordeaux, will often produce a lot of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. When serving these aged wines it is imperative that decanting be done properly, and that the bottles be handled gently to avoid rousing the sediment. Once the sediment has been stirred, the only way to make the wine drinkable is to let it sit for a long time again. Often longer than you have for dinner that night. If you see a preponderance of silt, and the wine tastes excessively dry and chalky when tasted you will need to sent back. Hopefully this expensive lesson will teach the server to decant properly before serving next time.
While there are a few other potential faults that can be found in a wine, the general rule is if the wine is not enjoyable or does not seem right, send it back. Any good restaurateur will realize that spoiled wine is a fact of life and will gladly open a new bottle without question.
Michael Briggs is a wine fanatic and a frequent contributor to Winery-Mall where you can learn all about wine ordering .