Finding your wine sweet spot isn’t always easy. You need to be willing to try some wines you won’t necessarily love before finding ones that seem like they are basically made for you. Finding the right wine can sometimes feel like finding a life partner. You need to find out what you don’t like before discovering what you do.
But what if your taste buds aren’t the problem? What if a wine is simply just bad? While we love bad boys, bad wine? Not so much.
Luckily, there are few red flags to help you discover the problem. You know, a typical ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ scenario.
What Makes Good Wine Go Bad?
Just like with dating, there are a lot of factors that can make your wine experience turn into an affair you’d rather not remember. Yet, the most common problems are unintended exposure to air and storage problems.
Oxidation is the No. 1 cause of ‘bad’ wine. Wine needs oxygen to breathe — but only when you’re just about ready to drink it. Introduce oxygen to your wine too soon, and you can end up with a rancid vino.
That’s why it’s so important to store opened wine properly.
The following wine scenarios are usually the result of oxidation.
Not Properly Stored
Sometimes wine that is shipped for long distances can get cooked. The cork might not be fully plunged into the neck of the bottle. When this happens, dry wine smells sweet or like almonds. Sometimes wine can also start a fermenting process over again.
This happens when yeast or lees remain in the bottle and the yeast is activated. (See: still wine is fizzy.)
One of the main causes of bad wine is cork rot or taint. This happens because of a bacterial process or because there are bad corks out there (in addition to bad boys and bad wines).
Telltale Signs of Bad Wine
Luckily, there are a few ways to determine whether your wine is bad or not.
Still Wine is Fizzy
And vice versa.
I once ordered a glass of wine at a bar, took a sip and exclaimed, “Ooooh, I didn’t know this was a sparkling wine!” The bartender snatched the glass from my hand, sniffed it and threw it down the drain.
I gasped. No one — and I mean no one — has ever dared to snatch a glass of wine from my hand after the first sip. But I’m glad he did.
“That wine isn’t supposed to sparkle,” he said, chucking the bottle in the trash and opening a new one.
If you too are surprised by the texture of your wine, get a second opinion.
Check Out the Color
If you drink a lot of wine, you’re probably familiar with its color. If the color of your wine is a little shocking, you should probably give it a sniff to see if it’s still good. (See: red wine.)
We know, using your nose to tell if something’s gone bad is one of the grossest ways to make the decision. We’ve all been in this situation with milk, meat and last week’s Chinese takeout. If you smell a chemical, rotten, wet dog or musty aroma, it’s baaaad.
How to Tell if Red Wine is Bad
Red and white wines often have different telltale signs of spoilage. If your red wine is supposed to be dry, but it tastes sweet, it’s probably gone bad. Also, check the color. It should be a rich red. If it looks rusty or thin, there’s probably something amiss.
Unfortunately, white wine doesn’t have specific signs of spoilage. You’ll just need to follow smell it to determine if it’s gone to the other side.
Can You Return Bad Wine?
It depends. If you bought it at the bodega or a budget wine dealer? Maybe not. A lot of smaller wine dealers might argue that they can’t know for sure if the wine was bad before you bought it. That’s why you should always buy your wine from a well-respected wine merchant or winery.
The good news is that bad wine isn’t necessarily bad for you — unlike spoiled milk or meat. If you accidentally take a few sips of bad wine, don’t panic. While your taste buds might have taken a hit, you’re not going to experience any serious repercussions.
What If Your Wine Isn’t So Bad?
All this ‘bad’ wine talk leads us to our final point: what if the wine isn’t the problem? What if our own preferences are what deceive us? Sometimes wine that we simply do not like can just taste ‘wrong.’ If you feel that you fall into this category, it’s always best to get a second opinion.
And while the phrase, “Does this wine taste… off to you?” isn’t the most welcome question in history, it’s better to be safe than sorry.