“God, how do you look so perfect when you cry?” my best friend asked me the question as I sat on my bed in a pool of blankets and sun, cross legged in my underwear lamenting a breakup.
Like most 23-year-olds, I was getting off on the drama. And how good I looked when sad. This was what love was, right? You were supposed to date openly unavailable men and then spend days lamenting the end they warned you was coming. I didn’t know better and, somewhere inside where I didn’t have to admit it, I was kind of enjoying my life playing out like the scenes of a Lifetime Movie*.
Lucky for me, just like for you and your bottle of reduced wine, I wasn’t broken beyond repair. It just took realizing that while my life looked broken—and something about that was sexy—it wasn’t. And just like fixing myself was far sexier than the drama, nothing is sexier than someone who can fix a wine flaw.
The Wreck of a Wine You Can Fix
I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been out and heard someone say “This wine is corked!” and seen someone else surreptitiously roll their eyes. I have been she who exclaims the wine is corked. I’ve also been the eye roller. Now I’ve happily taken on the mantle of “Patron Saint of Flawed Wine” to my friends.
Meet The Beautiful Wreck: Reduced Wine
First things first. There are two terms that sound alike but are very different in the context of wine. Ready? The terms are “reductive” and “reduced.”
Reductive is a style of winemaking where the winemaker purposely limits how much oxygen the wine gets. This lets the primary aromas (fruit) take the stage vs. aromas from aging. It requires great attention to detail.
Reduced wine, is wine that did not get enough oxygen. While more common in screw top wines traditional closures also experience this flaw. Reduced wines are sulphorous, smelling more of struck match than rotten eggs (thank Buddha).
Reductive winemaking is a purposeful choice that enhances fruit.
Reduced wine stinks.
Fixing The Flaw
Corked wine—wine infected with TCA (2,4,6 – trichloroanisole)—is a specific, unfixable wine flaw that causes wine to smell and taste musty. For some reason, any time people sniff a flaw they lump it into this category. The next time you think a bottle is corked, smell it to see if it’s more musty or sulphorous. If it’s musty, send it back or close it and call where you purchased it. Most wine shops will replace flawed wine. Same if it smells of acetone (nail polish remover). But if it smells of struck match? Don’t you dare toss that wine. If you’re in a restaurant, let the server know it is reduced and ask them to decant it. If you’re at home, throw it in the blender!
That’s right! Decanting “opens” wines by adding oxygen but you can do this much quicker using a blender so if you’re home and you’ve got a reduced bottle, just pop it in your clean blender and let ‘er rip for about 15-30 seconds. Honestly, most everyday reds could use a few seconds in the blender. It makes them taste about $20 better. That said, I don’t do this with most bottles because I enjoy slowing down and really allowing a wine to open throughout a meal.
Other Wine Flaws: How to Tell if Wine is Bad
While “corked” has become the catchall, servers, somms and restaurant workers appreciate a consumer who can identify a flaw. Not liking a wine is not a sign that a wine is bad but there are some flaws you may** come across. Here are some of the easiest to suss out.
Volatile Acidity (VA)
Wine that smells like acetone or nail polish remover. This is caused by bacteria that create acetic acid. You can attempt to decant it hoping the gasses will “blow off.” I haven’t been successful at this yet.
Cooked wine is almost exactly what it sounds like: it’s wine that has been exposed to extreme heat. Fruit flavors will taste more stewed than fresh. It may have developed sweet notes of caramel or taste burned or like something is baking. The wine might also appear more brown than you would expect.
Sometimes this happens along with cooked wine but you’re most likely to find it in delicate whites. You know how many white wines come in clear bottles? This is a signal to the consumer to drink it now. Because these wines are often very sensitive to light and heat. If wines get too much UV exposure they develop lightstrike which makes the wine smell like wet wool.
Sniff, Sniff, Slay!
The next time you’re thinking something is not quite right with a wine, get more help from your somm or waiter by taking time to sniff. Talk with your table mates and come up with a consensus on the overwhelming smell or taste that seems off. Then ask them to also sniff and taste. You’re more likely to get a new bottle quickly if you can describe or even identify the flaw, so practice how to tell if wine is bad.
Also, you won’t make everyone roll their eyes when you immediately default to corked.
“…But you make such a beautiful wreck you do.”
*if you haven’t watched a lifetime movie from beginning to end and screamed at the tv, you haven’t lived.
**I drink a LOT of wine and even so the vast majority of wine I come across is not flawed.