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An unpleasant characteristic often resulting from poor winemaking practices or storage conditions, and leading to wine spoilage sometimes can be found in wine. Many of the compounds that cause wine faults are already naturally present in wine but at insufficient concentrations to adversely affect it. In fact, depending on perception, these concentrations may impart positive characters to the wine. However when the concentration of these compounds greatly exceeds the sensory threshold, they replace or obscure the flavors and aromas that the wine should be expressing (or that the winemaker wants the wine to express). Ultimately the quality of the wine is reduced, making it less appealing and sometimes undrinkable.
There are many causes for the perception in wine faults including poor hygiene at the winery, [trx_highlight type=”1″] excessive and/or insufficient exposure of the wine to oxygen [/trx_highlight], excessive or insufficient exposure of the wine to sulphur, overextended maceration of the wine either pre- or post-fermentation, faulty fining, filtering and stabilization of the wine, the use of dirty oak barrels, over-extended barrel aging and the use of poor quality corks. Outside of the winery, other factors within the control of the retailer or end user of the wine can contribute to the perception of flaws in the wine. These include poor storage of the wine that exposes it to [trx_highlight type=”1″ color=”#eb413e” backcolor=”#f2f5f8″] excessive heat and temperature fluctuations [/trx_highlight] as well as the use of dirty stemware during wine tasting that can introduce materials or aromas to what was previously a clean and fault-free wine.
In wine tasting, there is a distinction made between what is considered a flaw and a fault. Wine flaws are minor attributes that depart from what are perceived as normal wine characteristics. These include excessive sulfur dioxide, volatile acidity, Brettanomyces or “Brett aromas” and diacetyl or buttery aromas. The amount to which these aromas or attributes become excessive is dependent on the particular tastes and recognition threshold of the wine taster. Generally, a wine exhibiting these qualities is still considered drinkable by most people.
However, some flaws such as volatile acidity and Brettanomyces can be considered a fault when they are in such an excess that they overwhelm other components of the wine. Wine faults are generally major attributes that make a wine undrinkable to most wine tasters. Examples of wine faults include acetaldehyde (except when purposely induced in wines like Sherry and Rancio), ethyl acetate and cork taint.
The vast majority of wine faults are detected by the nose and the distinctive aromas that they give off. However, the presence of some wine faults can be detected by visual and taste perceptions. For example, [trx_highlight type=”2″]premature oxidation[/trx_highlight] can be noticed by the yellowing and browning of the wine’s color. The sign of gas bubbles in wines that are not meant to be sparkling can be a sign of refermentation or malolactic fermentation happening in the bottle. Unusual breaks in the color of the wine could be a sign of excessive copper, iron or proteins that were not removed during fining or filtering.