The Mountain Times

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Bad wine is not an oxymoron

Wine actually does go bad once it is exposed to air. In centuries past, before bottles with corks were invented, one may wonder how wine ever became popular. Wine was kept in jars, carafes or barrels, but as it aged it became so foul tasting that all kinds of things (such as ash or tree resin) got mixed in to keep it palatable. The only reason for drinking wine was that, as a fermented beverage, it was relatively safe to drink in comparison to water at the time.

Even if people got inebriated much of the time, it still kept them healthier as chances for catching water-borne diseases were reduced. And, of course, for some the psychotropic effects of wine were (and probably still are) the main motivation, be it to drown your sorrows or lose your inhibitions.

But since sealed bottles came along and kept wine fresh for long times, many find enjoyment in exploring the many tastes in wine, be it with or without food. And there are so many flavors to be discovered! Be it by grape or country and region of origin, or just by personal preference and experience, the complexity of wine is limitless.

Of course not everybody likes the same wine, even if critics like Robert Parker and others influence our perception a great deal. Whether we like a wine or not is largely a personal choice. We could call a wine bad just because we don't like it. The problem however is, there really are bad wines out there and many people don't recognize the fault in the wine.

It is one of the biggest problems in the wine world. Sure, if you drink the same wine all the time, as many do, you will recognize a bottle that's "off." And maybe you are aware that you can bring it back and get a fresh bottle at every reputable retailer or restaurant.

But if you're not familiar with a particular wine and just out to discover something new, it may be harder to call. Most wine drinkers are familiar with 'corked' wine, but still too many drink it and blame the wine for the resulting headache.

The culprit is a chemical 'tricloroanisole' or TCA found in mold growing on cork trees and finding its way into a bottle of wine. Yet it's not only cork than can carry this unwanted substance: barrels, cardboard boxes, even the walls or the bottling facility of a winery may transfer TCA to bottles, even if they're sealed with artificial corks or screw caps.

And there are other sources for tainted wine, such as the acrid smell of burnt matches caused by sulfur dioxide; the odor of rotten eggs from hydrogen sulfide; acetic acid such as in vinegar; lactic acid smells like a goat or sauerkraut; or ethyl acetate as in fingernail polish remover.

A bottle that's been exposed to too much heat is 'maderized' with a cooked or baked odor. If the bottle has been left open too long, it's most likely 'oxidized' which can resemble a nutty, caramelized flavor, but is usually too unpleasant and makes the wine smell and taste flat and unpleasant with a pronounced lack of fruit character.

Whatever makes a bottle of wine taste bad, don't be shy to return it. Just be sure not to wait too long and don't drink more than a taste. You'll get another bottle of the same wine, and hopefully it'll taste much better. And if not, then it's probably time to move on and try a different wine.