Ever been unsure whether the wine in your glass is OK to drink?

I certainly have.

But after a few wayward years spent working as a wine maker in some of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, I’ve come to realize that it’s not as difficult as you’d think.

Most wine making faults can be detected just by smelling your wine. All you need is to keep in mind a few key aromas to watch out for. If you can’t smell any of them, you’ll know your wine is probably fine.

It also helps to have a look in the glass.

The color can tell you if the wine has been exposed to excess air. Or if there are signs of bubbles and it’s not meant to be a sparkling wine, I’d be a little worried about that too.

Cloudiness in wine, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some wine makers prefer to leave their wine unfiltered to avoid the loss of flavor that can come in the pursuit of a perfectly clear, filtered wine.

At the end of the day if it smells delicious and tastes good too, you’ll know you’re onto a good thing.

Maybe time to order another bottle?

8 Simple Signs that Your Wine is Bad

1. The colour browner than you would expect.
When white wine is exposed to air, it takes on a browner colour. When red wine is oxidized, it loses some of its bright red or purple colors and starts looking brown as well. In aged wines, both white and red, this is natural and to be expected. But if your wine is young – only 1 or 2 years old, it can be a sign that the wine has been exposed to too much air. This can either mean the bottle has been open for a few days or it may have happened in the winery or during the bottling process.

A good way to learn how the color changes is to keep an opened bottle of wine for a few days. Then open a fresh bottle of the same wine and compare the color of the two samples. Guaranteed the wine that has been open for longer will look more brown.


2. The wine has bubbles when it’s not mean to.

If you’re expecting the wine to be still and it comes with a bit of fizz, this is a warning sign that some sort of fermentation is occurring in the bottle. Not a good thing. Ask for another bottle, although if the second bottle has the same problems, it’s time to try a different wine.

If you’re at home and there isn’t any more wine, you’ve got a bigger problem. Time to stock the cellar. But for now, it won’t hurt you to drink your unexpected sparkling wine.

3. Smells like wet dog or wet cardboard.
These aromas are associated with cork taint, or the wine being ‘corked’. This is a sign that the cork has had mold growing on it at some stage which left a chemical, known as TCA, in the cork. The mold may be long gone but even tiny amounts of TCA can impart negative flavors on wine.

This can vary from bottle to bottle, so ask for a fresh bottle if you can. If it the last one was corked, the new bottle will taste completely different. It won’t hurt you to drink a corked wine, but depending on the level of the doggy/cardboardy flavors it may not be a very pleasant experience.

4. Smells like band-aids or a barn yard.

In small doses, a little bit of barn yard can add complexity to wine and isn’t necessarily bad. But if all you’re smelling is band-aids or farm animals, it’s a problem with the wine. Generally this is a result of a yeast called brettanomyces or ‘brett’ and is a sign of poor hygiene in the winery, although it can also come from the grapes themselves.

Again, it’s not going to cause any harm to humans, but the bad news is that the whole batch of wine will probably have the same issues. Grabbing a fresh bottle won’t help here.

5. Smells like nail polish remover or vinegar.

A sign that acetic acid bacteria have been at work in your wine causing a fault known as volatile acidity, or VA. Like, brett, a little bit of VA can add complexity and be a good thing, but when it dominates, it becomes a fault. Still, won’t harm you to drink it, although it may give a burning sensation in sensitive people.

6. Smells ‘mousey’.
Another microbial wine making fault, although thankfully not very common. For me, any amount of mouse aroma in a wine is a bad thing, but some people don’t mind it so much. Again, it’s not toxic but very unpleasant – enough to make me happy drinking water.

7. Smells like burnt rubber or cooked cabbage.
Another relatively uncommon wine making fault, caused by the formation of undesirable sulfur compounds in wine. If you can, choose another wine.

8. The wine has no aroma.
This could be because the wine is too cold, or it needs a little air. Warm the glass with your hands and swirl a little to introduce more air. If it still isn’t smelling like much after a few minutes, it could be that the wine just doesn’t have much flavour.

The other explanation could be a very low level of cork taint, enough to strip any good flavors from the wine, but not at a high enough level to exhibit the wet cardboard or doggy unpleasantness normally associated with TCA.

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