Wine faults

You are salivating in anticipation of the delicious steak/bird/fish and pour a special bottle for the occasion. Then, yikes, a goblin grabs your nose. Burnt matches. Wet cardboard. Freshly deposited stuff in a barnyard.

In a restaurant, do you demand a refund? At home, do you curse your local wine shop? Or do you shrug and drink it anyway, thinking this is how “good wine” is supposed to taste. To help, a list of wine fault signs and causes, including what may seem to be faults but are not.

• Little crystals—“whine diamonds.” These are tartrates than can appear when wines are not cold stabilized. Natural winemakers eschew cold stabilization because they believe the process reduces complexity. Crystals are harmless, you can filter them out.

• Cloudiness and/or sediment: suspended proteins that were not filtered out. Some winemakers assert filtering dampens wine character. Not a fault. Decant/filter and see if you enjoy the complexity.

• Barnyard smell: caused by Brettanomyces yeast. Controversial. Burgundy producers believe a little brett enhances wine. You judge. Even brett-backers acknowledge there can be too much of their good thing.

• Wet cardboard, musty, or moldy smell: corked wine, caused by yeast reacting to chemicals in the cork; bad. Problem eliminated with twist-offs and artificial corks, and significantly reduced with better practices by cork producers (and reduced stress on cork producers for volume, thanks to twist caps and artificial corks).

• Vinegar smell: bacteria converts too much alcohol into acetic acid. A little is acceptable, but if you notice, bottle is bad.

• Stemmy, bitter taste: grapes pressed too hard, crushing seeds and stems. Bad, cheap wine indicator.

• Green, tart, grassy taste: sign of unripe, green grapes. Not to be confused with signature aroma of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. You can easily tell the difference.

• Damp straw, vinegar, nail polish remover smell: over-exposed to air during winemaking caused oxidation. If an older bottle of white wine is brownish or bright yellow, the wine was exposed to too much sunlight or air leaked through cork. Bottle is bad.

• Spoiled Camembert cheese smell, sour taste: errors during malolactic fermentation produce butyric acid. No-question fault.

Last round: The person at the wine store asked if I was stocking up for a party. I said: “No, for Thursday.”