When you’re at a restaurant and you order a bottle of wine, the waiter will most likely give you a taste to see if you like it. You may swirl it around or sniff it for a second, but the whole process is very quick, unless you’re the next master sommelier. However, you might want to sniff your wine for a bit longer. Besides having your bottle turn into pure vinegar, there are five other common wine problems that cause very distinct smells you should look out for.
Problem #1 Corked Wine: We’re not talking about wine bottles that have a cork in it; “corked” wine means that the compounds inside the cork have become infected, tainting and spoiling your delicious bottle of wine. If your bottle is in fact “corked,” you will smell wet dog, damp newspaper, or possibly a musty basement. All of the fruity and fresh flavors will be gone, and it will taste like cardboard.
Problem#2 Oxidized Wine: If you happen to smell walnuts, caramel, burnt fruit, or even curry, your wine is probably oxidized. Oxidized wines are usually improperly stored or exposed to air, wine’s archenemy. It can also mean they were left in very hot temperatures.
Problem #3 Volatile Acidity: This one might be as bad as it sounds. If you take a whiff of a wine with volatile acidity, your nose will hate you. You will smell a lovely mixture of nail polish remover, vinegar, and Easter egg dye. Yum!
Problem #4: Reduction: Now, we’re getting into the realm of rotten eggs, burnt rubber, and cauliflower. If you are lucky enough to smell one of these scents, it means your wine is reduced. Reduction is the opposite of oxidation, so it means your wine has not been exposed to any air at all. Too much air will definitely oxidize and ruin your wine, but sometimes just a little will help it age better.
Problem #5: Brettanomyces: This one is probably just as hard to come across as it is to pronounce, but this problem, also called “brett,” could smell like bandages, rubber, horses, or other barnyard scents. It indicates a yeast spoilage. Very old wines may have a small amount of brett, so avid wine drinkers sometimes actually covet this smell.
Now that you know all of the smells your wine should definitely not have, you can be more confident that you’ll be drinking an unspoiled, well-aged glass of wine. So next time you’re at a restaurant giving your wine a little taste test, you might finally have a good enough reason to send that bottle back.