The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Wine gone bad
Identify and prevent ‘corked’ wine

By Stefanie Phillips

There is nothing more depressing than opening up a bottle of wine and finding out it has gone bad. There are a few ways this can happen, and it may have even occurred before you got it home, as many bottles travel internationally before they reach store shelves. 
According to Serious Eats, wine professionals estimate that 1 in 20 bottles of wine and possibly even up to 1 in 10 bottles is “corked,” or gone bad. This makes it undrinkable, and it ends up down the drain. 
I feel lucky that I really haven’t encountered too many bad bottles in my wine travels. I did get a case of wine from a New Hampshire winery a while back when the winery was closing. The wine wasn’t bad, but was not up to the winemakers’ personal standards, so he hadn’t sold it. I happily took it and have been enjoying
it, bottle by bottle. Now drinking it feels nostalgic. 
Here is some information about the most common ways wine goes bad and how to identify them. This list just may save a future bottle, and your sanity!
Most people know that the cork is the key to keeping the wine from spoiling, but according to writer Steve Stacionis from Serious Eats, looking at the cork, smelling the cork and looking for cork that may have ended up in your wine glass will not tell you if a wine is bad or not. The only way to determine this is through smell and taste. 
A wine is “corked” when a chemical compound gets into it (called TCA for short) and gives it a musty odor. If your wine smells like a grungy sponge, musty basement or mold, you can be certain that TCA has found its way into the bottle. TCA can also mute the wine’s other aromas, so if a wine smells off to you, especially if you have tried it before, this is another good indicator. 
“Cooked” wine is just what it sounds like: wine that has been overheated for a period of time. Since wine should be stored in a cool, dark place, warmer temperatures are not recommended. Exposure to sun and heat can turn a nice bottle of wine into a stewed prune juice-like mess. This is something to think about not only when you’re buying wine, but when you are storing it at home.
Stacionis puts it bluntly: “A shelf in the window shop with the sun beating down on it? That wine, sadly, is screwed. A rack right next to the kitchen stove? Ditto.” Many people, myself included, are guilty of improper wine storage at one time or another. A cute little wine rack may look nice on your kitchen counter, but this is actually one of the worst places to store it, especially with a heat source nearby. 
A bottle of cooked wine may have the cork protruding from the top of the bottle or show signs of seepage around the cork, according to Stacionis. If the wine heated up and expanded, the cork can be pushed out of the bottle.
Air is a great thing, except when it gets into your bottle of wine and taints it. Oxidized wine is much like an apple after it has sat out on the counter: brown and dried up. Often, oxidized wines have a nutty flavor. Some of this may occur naturally in older wines, but younger wines should not have any of these characteristics. If a wine seems dull and flat, it could very well be oxidized. 
Wine is only supposed to ferment once, right? But if there are yeast and sugar still in the bottle the process can occur again, making the wine slightly fizzy or bubbly. Bacteria in the wine will also eat at other parts of the wine and give off carbon dioxide. Refermenting highlights the importance of sanitation in the winemaking process, though some of this may occur naturally. A refermented wine may be drinkable with a little bit of extra pizzazz. 
Use your senses
Overall, your eyes and nose are the best tools when it comes to determining if a wine is bad through color and smell. Brownish hues, must and wet dog smells have no place in your wine glass! If you haven’t tried a wine before, it may be a little harder to determine, but if you know you like a wine and something seems off, it probably is. 


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