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Wine Faults and How to Spot (or Smell) Them

Ever take a sip of wine and wonder if there's something wrong with it? It really could be the wine, not you. Whether it's a problem that occurred at the winery or after the bottle was opened — or the "fault" is actually an intentional style — it's helpful to know what the common wine defects are so you can determine if your wine is completely undrinkable ... or just a little funky tasting.

Cork taint
Introduced by a chemical contaminant known as 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA), cork taint usually happens if the cork was exposed to chlorine, hence the name, but it can also happen if the wine was aged in oak barrels. Corked wine features a dank odor that may remind you of your dog after it comes in from a rainy walk.
What it looks like: Corked wines don't have any telltale visual traits.
What it tastes like: Mold, damp basement, wet newspaper
What to do with it: You can drink a corked wine, but it won't be a pleasant experience. Better to return the bottle for a refund or replacement.

Oxidation is a problem that can afflict red or white wines, since it happens when any wine is exposed to the air for too long. It can occur during the winemaking process, but more likely it'll happen when a bottle of wine isn't resealed properly after it's opened.
What it looks like: Oxidized wines turn a dull brown or orange color.
What it tastes like: Vinegar, caramel
What to do with it: Drinking an oxidized wine won't hurt you, but it'll be flat and rather tasteless. Consider making your own vinegar with it!

When a bottle is exposed to high temperatures suddenly or for too long, it can get maderized or "cooked," which will turn the wine's naturally bright flavor into a stewed or jammy version. This can happen at home, but it can also happen at any point during the shipping or storage process.
What it looks like: The cork may be coming out a bit from the expansion of air in the bottle. Cooked wines may look similar to oxidized wines.
What it tastes like: Prune, raisin, nut
What to do with it: You can possibly cook with a cooked wine, but only if it's not too far gone.

Sometimes a strange-tasting wine can be an interesting wine. Case in point: Brettanomyces, or Brett for short, which is a strain of yeast that can get into the wine at any time. Brett imparts a flavor that's reminiscent of a barnyard, but some people find this to be a good thing (the way some people love really funky cheeses). Everyone agrees that too much Brett is a bad thing, though.
What it looks like: Brett is visually undetectable.
What it tastes like: Manure, farm animals, Band-Aids
What to do with it: The wine is totally drinkable. Keep an open mind and maybe you'll even learn to enjoy the taste.

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