Random Musings

Do You Drink an Obviously Flawed Wine?

wine splash

What is your tolerance level for a flawed wine? I recently had the opportunity to share a bottle of ’05 Rayas with a friend. In retrospect the wine showed hints of brettanomyces, but nonetheless was one of the best bottles I have had this year.

This got me thinking about the different types of wine flaws, and my level of tolerance for each.

Brettanomyces (Brett)

Brettanomyces (“brett” for short) is a form of yeast that becomes established at a winery over time, spreading as wine comes in contact with contaminated areas. Within a winery, the areas that are hardest to clean will harbor the highest populations of brett: must lines, dirty crush equipment, oak barrels, or any tank or transfer line which has not been thoroughly cleaned. Common aromas associated with brett include barnyard and band aid.

For the most part I am fine with a little brett in my wine, and I count producers notorious for brett like Pegau and Beaucastel among my favorites.

Volatile Acidity

Another common flaw in wine is volatile acidity. Volatile acidity, or VA, is mostly caused when bacteria in wine creates acetic acid and its byproduct, ethyl acetate. The resulting impact on wine is a smell of nail polish or candied fruit.

Recent bottles of ’04 Dehlinger Goldrige Pinot Noir and ’09 Force Majeure Collaboration Series Sangiovese showed a touch of VA, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying them. Note: Bottle notes for the Dehlinger will be published later this week.

TCA (Cork Taint)

Yet another common flaw in wines is TCA. Wines that contain TCA at a detectable level are described as being “corked”. A corked wine will have the musty smell often associated with wet newspaper or cardboard. The main source of TCA in wine comes from cork closures, which explains the movement over the last few years to alternative closures like screw caps. Often times a corked wine will taste fine, but it is nearly impossible to get past the displeasing aroma.

When I come across a corked bottle I don’t even hesitate – it’s poured down the kitchen sink.

So I guess I’m completely comfortable with brett and slight levels of VA, but have zero tolerance for corked bottles. I’d love to hear from a few of you about your tolerance for flawed wines: What are you okay with drinking, and what gets dumped?

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9 thoughts on “Do You Drink an Obviously Flawed Wine?

  1. Tom, thanks for the post. I don’t remember reading about VA before and after reading this can remember a couple bottles that had VA but I didn’t know it at the time. Overall I am okay with Brett but have trouble with VA and cork taint.

    1. Kyle, for sure…although easier said than done if it is a bottle from Bordeaux or CdP. From recent memory both Woodward Canyon and Angel Vine graciously replaced corked bottles.

  2. I tend to let my favorite wineries know if one of their bottles is corked. More because I know they take a lot of pride in their wine and probably care than because I want a replacement bottle (although it is nice when they send one).

  3. Same position as you, Tom. Brett and VA are okay, but a corked bottle gets dumped. Similarly, excessive cold and heat can damage a wine leaving it tasting bitter. This gets dumped too. How about buying a wine that is showing minor leakage? Would you buy such a bottle? In my mind, if a bottle is showing leakage, then the wine has been exposed to air. In this case, oxidation can be a huge problem. On the other hand, I have tasted wine from bottles that showed minor leakage and the wine was fine.

    1. Peter, when I buy at auction I won’t bid unless the bottle is pristine…so seepage would rule a bottle out. I could see making an exception if it was a recent vintage and my intent was near term consumption.

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