Sometimes however, we identify smells or appearance that makes us think our wine is taint, though it turns out, that not all these findings are faults.
The floaty bits that settle at the bottom of the bottle and sometimes cluster in the neck of the bottle near the cork. Sediment is a general term used to describe the lees, colour pigments, phenolic compounds, and proteins that are suspended within in the wine. Sediment will appear with a wine that has not been filtered or fined.
Filtering wine is a mechanical process where the wine is processed through a filter using a pump or air pressure. Fining is a chemical process that takes place by adding a fining agent to the wine which attaches itself to the tannins, phenolic compounds and colour pigments, etc.
With fining, the now larger compound settles at the bottom of the tank, allowing it to be separated from the wine. Fining agents range from egg whites, fish blood and bladder, casein (a milk protein), to chemicals and minerals such as polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) or copper.
Q: Why do winemakers want sediment in our wine?
A: The chemical compounds that are left behind as sediment can give our wines deeper colour and a richer texture. Many argue that fining, filtering or neither creates a more superior wine. We feel that it is up to the winemaker, and the resulting wine is based on their style and preferences.
White wines will look cloudy when not fined or filtered, and it is more common to see Chardonnay, Semillon, Muscat that is not filtered than Sauvignon Blanc. Lighter bodied red wines, like Pinot Noir will almost always have some fining and filtering. Where as larger bodied, more tannic red wines like Cabernet and Syrah will more commonly show sediment.
Q: What to do with your sediment?
A: Decant! Before serving your wine, allow the bottle to rest standing so that the sediment will settle to the bottom of the bottle. When you pour the wine into the decanter, be sure to pour slowly and allow the sediment to remain at the bottom. Reserve the last several ounces in the bottle with the sediment to ensure it doesn’t end up in your glass. Alternatively, you can purchase a sediment filter that will allow you to decant or pour with more confidence of removing anything unwanted floating around.
Not all funky smells are bad smells. In fact, some of them are intentional and sought after. Wines from a certain soil, region or grape variety can give unique and sometimes odd aromas. You may have seen on WineCollective tasting cards, us describing a wine’s characteristics as butcher block, barnyard, or forest floor. These can be traits that are expected.
For example, a type of wild yeast called brettanomyces creates the ‘barnyard’ descriptor. This yeast gives a distinct barn-like smell (think of all the good and bad smells of a horse stall). The brettanomyces is more distinct in older wines as the fruit begins to fade and shows more of the secondary characteristics. Too much brettanomyces can be overwhelming, however, in smaller doses it is musky with leather and earth.
Wines of Rhone and Burgundy are most known for exhibiting these qualities, but they can also be found in California and other new world regions. Similar flavour profiles can be found from Mourvedre from France, where the grape exhibits meaty notes. These may not be your favourite wines, but it is important to understand where these flavours come from and how they create complex and enticing wines.
Wine crystals, or tartaric crystals look like tiny pieces of glass or sea salt and are usually found on the cork or bottom of the bottle. This is actually the same as cream of tartar! When tartaric acid connects with potassium they form the crystalline salt. Typically these will only show up on wine that has been aged significantly. Sometimes, if wine is store at colder temperatures, this can increase the likelihood of seeing the crystals. Producers will often use a process called ‘cold stabilization’ that will remove these compounds from the wine before they are bottled. The little crystals are not harmful and will not negatively affect the quality of your wine. We suggest decanting to remove any of the shards from entering your glass.
As noted previously, browning or bricking in a young wine may be an indication that your wine is off. Especially if you see that the cork is protruding, the capsule is broken or there is any damage to the wine bottle. In certain wines, the oxidative qualities produces a more sought after flavour profile as the wine ages. Sautern, a white wine from Bordeaux is meant to age, and sometimes up to 20-50 or 100 years! With age, the wine becomes richer and darker in colour, turning from yellow to honey or amber. As red wine ages, it will begin to lose the intensity in colour and start to fade to a lighter hue that has undertones of tawny or bricking colour.
We touched on highly acidic wines in our first Bad Wine blog, and how volatile acid can become present in a wine. However, we did not disclose that some winemakers choose to use the acidic bacteria for certain styles of wine. While this may be purposeful, it is not required that the style suits your palate.
Be sure to read your tasting cards, and even research a wine if you suspect fault. You may find that the wine is meant to smell like horses, or taste acidic. If you are unsure of a wine, feel free to contact us, and we can help you determine what is causing a potentially bad wine. Remember, we credit or replace all bad bottles, so be sure to get in touch if a WineCollective feature is not as described.