Good vs Bad Wines (compared to … what?)
In this article, we want to make sure that you judge a wine in a rightful manner. Still respecting the hard work of those involved in the process, from grape growers to winemakers.
What is a good wine?
What is the answer you can expect if you would ask that question while in a wine shop or restaurant?
Option 1: The seller gives you the most expensive wine because usually price and quality go together hand in hand. This article explains in detail why you pay a specific price for a bottle of wine.
Option 2: The seller recommends wines that are supposed to be sold more that week, month, or trimester. Maybe (s)he has too much inventory and shelf space is needed for newer wines. Or it is just related to a higher profit for them.
You might think that (s)he is tricking you. (S)He is not giving you a good wine like you asked but wants to make money. That is not entirely correct. The reason is related to the fact that asking for a good wine is actually asking the wrong question.
Asking the wrong question will not give you the expected answer. Or it may, but you might not be satisfied with the answer.
Is it wrong to ask for a good wine?
It’s simple. Good wine is associated with wine that you like. And what you like might not be what your partner or friends like and the other way around. In order to get a useful answer form the restaurant worker try to describe what you like in a wine. Is it sweet or dry, is it fruity or earthy, refreshing or not etc.
The fact that you don’t like a specific wine doesn’t make it a bad wine.
What about wine critics?
Wine critics use different scales to rate wines. Most are 1 to 100. When a wine critic gives 100 points to a specific wine it definitely means it’s a good wine, right? No matter the answer, there is still a possibility that you will not like the wine. That doesn’t make it a bad wine.
What is a bad wine?
Technically, all wines are good if the winemaking process is respected. Bad wine has a very specific problem, one that changed the initial characteristics of the wine or the quality that the winemaker was pursuing.
If this sounds strange to you there is a high chance that you had one of those bottles and did not notice. That is OK. Most wine consumers do not observe all possible wine faults and almost none are a threat to your health.
How to recognise a bad wine?
This is actually a chemical contamination, usually of the cork, with a compound called 2-4-6 Trichloroanisole (TCA). The way to recognise this fault is to check if your glass of wine has dimmed fruit aromas and a specific wet cardboard or mouldy note.
If that happens to you, take the bottle back to the wine shop with the original cork and ask for a replacement.
Note: If you see pieces of cork in your wine, that does not mean the wine is corked.
If you buy a white wine that is young and the colour is more brown than expected, lacks freshness and fruitiness and has only aromas of caramel, toffee and honey, that means that somewhere on the way the wine was exposed to too much oxygen. This might happen to you if you keep the bottle of wine open for too long before consuming it.
Note: There are wines made in an oxidative style, and in that case it is not a fault.
It is the opposite of oxidation, so the specific smell occurs when there is not enough oxygen in the bottle. The specific smell is something close to boiled cabbage or rotten egg. This smell goes away in a few minutes after opening the bottle so the wine can still be consumed and enjoyed.
Note: Some even consider a small amount of these odours to contribute to the complexity of the wine.
It is a type of yeast that lives freely in wineries and can interact with the winemaking process at some point. The aromas that should be noticed are related to sweaty horse or a barnyard smell. These odours can also contribute to increasing the complexity range of the wines if they are not overwhelming the rest of the aromas.
Note: A small amount of funky odours is appreciated by some wine consumers.
This may happen often because of bad storage conditions. If you buy wine from a gas station with no air conditioning or the nice wine rack that you own fits perfectly next to your stove, chances are your wine will have some similar characteristics: a nutty, roasted sugar aroma or something similar to reducing a sauce. If the bottle is stored standing, the cork might dry out and allow oxygen to get in contact with the wine. That means oxidation related aromas can also be detected.
Contrary to what you may know, old wines are not always the best wines. If too much time passes and, even if it is stored in the best conditions, a bottle of wine loses freshness and has a dull/stale taste. Of course, this is not a common situation as very old wines are way more rarely opened than others.
Note: There are other things that might make your wine out of condition, such as variable temperature, direct sunlight, freezing temperature, refermentation etc.
All wines are good wines if you like them and there is only a small amount of them that will actually have some defect. Only those should be referred to as bad and as you noticed even then there might be someone that enjoys it. Another important observation is that these faults are most of the time related to the bottle. So the wine is not faulty, but that specific bottle is the problem. Buying more bottles of the same wine will make it more obvious.
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