Mastering the Art of Identifying Unwanted Characteristics in Wine

Detecting wine faults is an important part of wine tasting (Photo: Zachariah Hagy,

Wine is a beautiful symphony of scents, flavors, and experiences. However, like any symphony, if one instrument is out of tune, the whole performance can be ruined. In the world of wine, these 'out of tune' elements are known as wine faults. These are characteristics that, when present, can mar the quality and enjoyment of your wine. But fret not, dear wine lovers. This guide will give you a thorough understanding of three common wine faults, helping you avoid the disappointing experience of a flawed wine.

Cork Taint

Cork taint, commonly referred to as 'corked wine', is probably the most recognized wine fault. It occurs when the chemical compound TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) contaminates the wine, often through a faulty cork. This contamination can leave the wine smelling like wet cardboard or a damp basement, stripping it of its fruitiness and vitality. It's not harmful to drink, but it's certainly not pleasant. Remember, if you suspect a wine is corked, don't hesitate to return it or ask for a replacement. It's not a matter of personal preference; it's a bona fide fault.


Oxidation is the wine equivalent of a sliced apple turning brown. It happens when wine comes into contact with air, causing it to oxidize. The result? Your once vibrant and fresh wine could taste stale and flat, with a nutty flavor that's more reminiscent of Sherry. In many cases, an oxidized wine will also have a deep brown color. While some wines are intentionally oxidized for style (like Sherry), in most cases, it's a fault. To avoid oxidation, ensure your wines are properly sealed and stored.


Brettanomyces, or 'Brett' for short, is a type of yeast that can infect wines and give them a distinctive barnyard smell. While it's a fault, it's a bit of a controversial one. In small amounts, Brett can add complexity and interest to a wine. But when it's too dominant, it can mask the wine's natural fruit flavors and leave you with a wine that smells more like a farm than a vineyard. The key here is balance. If Brett is all you can taste or smell in your wine, it's likely a fault.

Wine faults can turn a delightful wine-drinking experience into a disappointing one. But by knowing what to look out for, you can ensure your wine is always on point. Remember, wine faults aren't a matter of taste, they're recognized issues that can occur in any bottle - from the most expensive vintage to the cheapest table wine. So, whether you're a casual wine drinker or an aspiring sommelier, understanding these common faults is an essential step in your wine education journey.

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