The popularity of moscato is easily understood. Most are sweet, low in alcohol and fizzy, making them appealing to a wide segment of the population.
A white wine that smells like cat pee, tastes like bell pepper and is so racked with cutting acidity that it draws the mouth into a permanent pucker might be pronounced bad or spoiled by those who favor moscato. Those who like sauvignon blanc would savor such a wine and find it flawless.
Styles of wine should not be confused with wine integrity. Wine style has to do with sweetness, fizziness, dryness, acidity, flavor, concentration and a host of other things. Wine integrity has to do with whether the wine is flawed or spoiled.
The question then, is how to identify a flawed wine? The first step is to look at the poured wine in a clear glass. Hold the glass in front of a white sheet of paper or napkin. White wine should be clear and free of cloudiness.
As white wine ages, it can become tawny in color. Such discoloration in wines commonly made from popular white wine varietals like chardonnay, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc should be approached cautiously. Check the vintage date. White wines do not generally have longevity. Tawniness in young white wine usually signals that the wine has been exposed to oxygen. Oxygen exposure is the number one enemy of most wines.
The same procedure should be followed for viewing red wines. Most red wines are opaque. Murkiness will not necessarily be detectable. Examine the edge of the poured red wine. If the edge is brick colored rather than a rich garnet, this is a sign the wine is aging. But if it is a recent vintage then red, rusty coloring on the edge may indicate oxygen exposure.
After checking for appearance flaws, the second step is smelling the wine. Smell it before it is poured from the bottle and again after it is poured and swirled in the glass. Some of the most common and detectable flaws in wine aromas are traces of wet dog/wet cardboard, rotten egg, nuts, sherry and vinegar. Hopefully not all of these aromas would be found in the same wine.
The name for the wet dog/wet cardboard aroma flaw is cork taint. A wine affected by cork taint is said to be corked. This problem seems to be on the decline due to improvements in the cork industry. I have encountered only two corked wines in recent memory, but this flaw is easily recognizable when encountered.
The rotten egg aroma or peeled boiled egg aroma is an indication of excessive levels hydrogen sulfide in the wine. Usually this noxious aroma dissipates after the bottle is left to breathe, but if it does not then the wine is most likely flawed.
A wine that smells like sherry, stewed fruit or caramelized nuts may be oxidized. While good in sherry, these traits are not good in chardonnay. Coupled with off coloring, this aroma is a good indication the wine is oxidized.
Vinegar aromas are an indication of bacterial spoilage and such wine should be sent back or poured out. Reassuringly things growing in flawed wines causing off aromas are not likely to make you sick. Wine does not spoil like milk — although you may feel ill if the bottle being poured out is costly.
The final step in evaluating the integrity of a wine is to taste it. If it tastes of vinegar or if it tastes flat and has no flavor then it is likely flawed, but if it’s just a matter of not finding the wine pleasant, pour it out and join the club looking for the next great wine experience
Email Pat Kettles at firstname.lastname@example.org