Bad Wine – Know the Signs!

Last week I traveled to the home of the Gateway Arch (that’s Saint Louis, Missouri…) to attend the US Commanderie de Bordeaux’s biennial Cavistes’ Colloquium. Several handfuls of members from different chapters gathered at the Ritz Hotel to share best practices (decanting was a hugely popular topic), exchange ideas on sourcing wines and blind taste some stunning Bordelais wines.

Not a member of this simultaneously très sérieux and bon vivant group, I engaged them in two radically different seminars. First came the fun stuff – a competitive blending seminar using the components of the 2006 Lynch-Bages to try to reconstitute the grand vin. Second came the stinky stuff – a presentation on wine faults. After all, the last thing you want is to be uncertain whether your Cru Classé is in top form. The group sniffed cautiously through their glasses, trying to suss out the faults exhibited:

 In white wine:

  • Oxidation

  • Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S)

In red wine:

  • Oxidation

  • Heat damage (often called “maderization” but more correctly labeled “heat damage” in the absence of fortification)

  • Volatile Acidity (Ethyl Acetate)

  • Brettanomyces

  • Corkiness (TCA or 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole)

Though this was a useful and intellectual exercise, I’m quite certain their palates preferred my morning seminar!

Orchestrating such a seminar was a lot of fun, and I learned a few things along the way. First, I figured that oxidizing one wine of each color for 24 hours would be plenty. Nope. They definitely needed another 12 hours each!  Second, I baked wine for the first time. After 20 minutes in the oven, I added an additional ten minutes…then another ten. I never would have guessed how much these 2009 Entre-Deux-Mers blancs and Bordeaux AOC rouges could take. These young wines are quite resilient!

Most wine drinkers recognize some faults or know when they think something about a wine just isn’t right. I look forward to helping more wine enthusiasts know the signs of bad wine!