Admit it, you experience a flutter of dread when you open a bottle of wine, especially one not familiar to you or one you’ve held for extended time. Could this wine be, uh, flawed—even spoiled? We investigate this the next three weeks.
• Cork terror. Wine smells like wet newspaper or a damp basement and has dull, listless fruit.
Corked wine was graver threat in the past—better sanitary conditions in the cork industry and synthetic corks and twist-off caps addressed the problem—but you still can encounter the dreaded 2,4,6-trichloroanisole villain. Wine professionals say now it is diagnosed more often than warranted, particularly by folks who want to show off. Corked wine won’t hurt you, but it can be unpleasant.
• Geriatric wine. You splurged on a 95-point treasure, admired it the past decade in your wine fridge, or more alarmingly in your room-temperature wine rack, often showing it off to friends.
Most wines are not made to age more than a few years, certainly most whites and rosés. Even those built for aging must do so in optimum conditions. Wines past their pour-on date will have faded color, loss of personality, collapse of structure, freshness failure.
This is subjective. Aged Bordeaux will not have the character of its youth or middle age, its color may fade to garnet, fruits may evolve to tobacco and cedar, but many wine collectors love that and pay a lot of money for it. You make the call. When in doubt go ahead and drink your treasure.
• Heat horror. You left wine in the car in summer, or stored it on top of the fridge, or in the kitchen window because afternoon sun looked so enchanting shining through the bottle. Shame on you. Shame.
You managed to cook your wine, also called Maderization after how Maderia is made—but the Portuguese know what they are doing. Your scandalous negligence resulted in a roasted, jammy, stewed red wine with raisin and prune flavors, or a brown white wine with nutty and Sherry-like flavors, but not in the good sense. Take heart, this may not be your fault. Hot loading docks or delivery trucks, a sunny window in the wine store can cause this. Yeah. Blame them.
This is a severe fault, basically rendering the wine undrinkable. You can use it as a braising liquid, but never let it happen again.
Last round: A meal without wine is called breakfast, and even then there are mimosas.