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How to Spot a Faulty Wine

riviera Wine pic 1

Advice from Louise Sydbeck- Master of Wine, Riviera Wine

As a crew member in the yachting industry I´m sure that you have had your fair share of faulty wines! With (in some cases) inappropriate storage conditions on yachts resulting in dry, hot and moving environment, wines tend to mature faster and sometimes reach the stage of oxidation more rapidly than normal.

Unfortunately there is more to faulty wines than oxidation; cork, heat damage and sulfur problems are the main ones. To shed some light on this highly technical subject here is a very brief introduction.


Oxidation is a defect linked to a chemical breakdown of the wine due to too much oxygen. It is the second most widely spread problem in wine (after TCA) and quite common in the yachting industry due to lack of appropriate storage conditions (warm temperatures speeds up this process).

wine bottle

How to spot it:

An oxidized wine will lose its bright color and fresh fruit aromatics. White wines turns darker and reds will get a ‘brownish´ hue, the vibrant fruit aromas will be replaced by a flat and ´tired´ nose. White wine tend to smell like apple purée and red wine like a bad cooked Madeira wine.

What to do? Nothing to do here I´m afraid. If the wines comes directly from the shop and it is a young wine one should contact the supplier. If it has spent some time on board or if it’s quite a mature wine it is trickier.

Cork taint

A corked wine has been contaminated by the chemical TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). TCA is present in nature and hence can be found in both oak barrels, the cellar and the cork. When it’s a barrel or cellar problem whole batches of wine will be contaminated and when it is the cork, single bottles will be affected. Usually though, TCA is a cork related problem and it has nothing to do with the way the wine is stored.

How to spot it:

A corked wine will have lost most of its fruit aroma and will often smell of wet cardboard, moldy damp earth cellar and something reminiscent of a dirty swimming pool.


Depending on which report one reads around 4% of all wine closed with a cork is TCA affected so remember to check every bottle before serving! Another important thing to know is that you cannot tell by looking at the cork that a wine is corked. The cork might be wet and moldy and the wine beautiful or the cork can be perfect and the wine full of TCA.

What to do? A corked wine is the responsibility of the producer. It doesn’t have anything to do with bad storage or age so if you come across a corked bottle do save it and give it back to the supplier. They can then send the bottle back to the producer whom, after chemical analysis, should supply a new bottle if TCA is found.

Sulfur compounds

This is an extremely technical topic and in the wine trade this fault is often referred to as reduction. It is liked to SO2 that is used as an additive in wine making to prevent oxidation and bacterial spoilage. It also often involves the dissolved oxygen in the wine (redox-potential).

How to spot it:

There are many different Sulphur compounds and they smell of different things. Some of them actually of passion fruit and pink grape fruit and then of course it’s not a problem others however smells of garlic, rotten eggs, rubber and burnt matches. Some of it can add to a wines complexity but if it’s too intense it is a wine fault. What to do? In some cases airing the wine can help, decanting it vigorously a few times in a pot before putting it in the decanter can give enough air to the wine to lose the off odors. And also putting a coper coin in the decanter and moving it a round might also (sometimes completely) remove the reduction problem.

Heat damage or ‘cooked wine’

A cooked wine is when a wine has been exposed to too much heat. If it is for a short period of time this has often very little effect on the wine but for longer periods of time it does.

How to spot it:

The wine loses its freshness and start smelling like canned, jammy fruit and becomes quite flat.

Sometimes it´s combined with oxidation if the wine has been stored in hot and dry locations for a longer time. Sometimes you can also see it, if a wine is exposed to heat for a period of time (can be enough with a day in a car boot in August heat) the cork can be slightly pushed out of the bottle. What to do? Contact supplier to discuss further!

If you have any questions regarding wine faults or other wine topics we are happy to help so stay in touch!


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