What’s a Bad Wine? - dummies

By Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Strangely enough, the right to declare a wine good because you like it doesn’t carry with it the right to call a wine bad just because you don’t. In this game, you get to make your own rules, but you don’t get to force other people to live by them.

The fact is that very few bad wines exist in the world today. And many of the wines you could call bad are actually just bad bottles of wine — bottles that were handled badly so that the good wine inside them got ruined.

Here are some characteristics that everyone agrees indicate a bad wine (or a bad bottle). Hopefully, you never meet one.

  • Vinegar: In the natural evolution of things, wine is just a passing stage between grape juice and vinegar. Most wines today remain forever in the wine stage because of technology or careful winemaking. If you find a wine that has crossed the line toward vinegar, it’s bad wine.

  • Chemical or bacterial smells: The most common are acetone (nail polish thinner) and sulfur flaws (rotten eggs, burnt rubber, bad garlic). Bad wines.

  • Oxidized wine: This wine smells flat, weak, or maybe cooked, and it tastes the same. It might have been a good wine once, but air — oxygen — got in somehow and killed the wine. Bad bottle.

  • Cooked aromas and taste: When a wine has been stored or shipped in heat, it can actually taste cooked or baked as a result (wine people use the term maderized for such wines). Often there’s telltale leakage from the cork, or the cork has pushed up a bit inside the bottle. Bad bottle. (Unfortunately, every other bottle of that wine that experienced the same shipping or storage will also be bad.)

  • Corky wine: The most common flaw, corkiness comes across as a smell of damp cardboard that gets worse with air, along with diminished flavor intensity. It’s caused by a defective cork, and any wine in a bottle that’s sealed with a cork is at risk for it. Bad bottle. (Fortunately, only a very small percentage of wines are corky.)

Let’s not dwell too long on what can go wrong with a wine. If you find a bad wine or a bad bottle — or even a wine that’s considered a good wine, but you don’t like it — just move on to something you like better. Drinking a so-called great wine that you don’t enjoy is as time-wasting as watching a television show that bores you. Change the channel. Explore.