The Beginner’s Guide to Wine Tasting – Part 1: Faults

When you think of wine tasting, you may envisage a crowd of well-to-do individuals describing high-end vintages in terms rarely heard in normal conversation. Whilst it’s necessary for us as wine merchants to be able to describe our wines in order to fully inform our customers, we’re often asked why the average Joe should take an interest in wine tasting. Simply put, if you can learn how to appreciate every nuance of a wine, you’ll be able to get the most enjoyment out of drinking it.

At The Grape Store, we believe that wine tasting shouldn’t be reserved for the upper echelons of society, which is why we’ve put together this beginner’s guide. In part one, we’ll discuss the most common wine faults so you’ll know what to be on the lookout for – it’s often possible to tell if a wine is problematic before a drop touches your lips!

One of the main issues winemakers face is creating perfect wines, as there are so many things that can go wrong from grape to glass. These can make the wine slightly less enjoyable, or can completely write off a whole bottle. Whilst the below list is by no means conclusive, it covers the main faults that you can identify during a tasting:

1)    Corked – chances are you’re already aware of this fault, which is caused by damage to the cork. This leads to the release of a chemical called TCA, which ruins the wine and makes it smell and taste musty, like a damp environment.

2)    Acetic acid – a common fault caused by poor winemaking, this acid can be created to excess during the fermentation process, which leaves the wine tasting and smelling distinctly like vinegar.

3)    Oxidised – caused when a wine has too much contact with oxygen, this can by as a result of poor processing or a faulty bottle seal.  All wines naturally oxidise with age, but premature aging is not a desirable characteristic. This fault manifests itself visually by giving the wine a brown or yellow tinge, and creates a smell reminiscent of fruitcake.

4)    Over sulphured – sulphur dioxide may be used as a disinfectant and is responsible for many a wine-related hangover, but when too much is added it can create a sour taste and a smell like burnt matches. This is fortunately not an issue with many of our wines due to their natural and organic origins.

5)    Hydrogen sulphide – possibly the smelliest fault, an excess of this chemical is caused by poor winemaking. If your wine reminds you of rotten eggs, it’s probably got this fault.

6)    Barrel taint – this is exactly what it sounds like: a fault created by dirty barrels. Winemakers need to keep their barrels as clean as possible when not in use in order to avoid creating wines that taste musty and sour.

In parts two, three and four we’ll discuss how you can appreciate and describe the look, smell and taste of the wines you’re tasting. We’ve created a wine tasting notes template that you can print off and fill in as you go, and Wikipedia has a great glossary of tasting descriptors if you need a little inspiration!


Continue to part 2…

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