There’s no shortage of wine advice. Most food websites and periodicals have wine columns. Crowd-sourced reviews on sites like Delectable and Vivino add to the mix. These are all valuable, but in the end, all they show is what someone else thought of wine, and the opinions are far from unanimous.
Fortunately, certain essential factors can help anyone judge wine quality without scores and reviews.
What does the bottle look like?
If a wine bottle in a shop has dust on its shoulders, it has generally been stored standing up for a long time. This can indicate that the cork has dried out and let air get into the bottle, which can oxidize the wine, giving it an undesirable odor and flavor.
On the other hand, if a bottle stored on its side doesn’t look quite full when it’s upright, wine might have spilled out, perhaps causing the wine to oxidize. However, neither factor is considered with wines sealed with screw caps—an increasingly prevalent practice even for the good stuff.And, if you’re looking for some great wines, try Bright Cellars Europe.
What does the cork smell like?
As indicated, screw caps are becoming more and more prevalent. About two-thirds of what’s bottled is still cork-finished, though. Corks have been used to cork bottles since the 18th century.
Still, they have a problem: It’s estimated that between 1 percent and 5 percent of cork-sealed wine bottles are “corked,” meaning that they’ve developed a fragrance commonly compared to damp newspaper or a moldy basement.
This so-called cork taint is caused by a chemical compound known as 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA for short), which can be transported into the wine by tainted corks (it can also come from winery hoses, barrels, and other sources).
That’s why sommeliers in luxury restaurants present corks to diners before pouring the wine. If the cork smells nasty, the wine will almost definitely too (and it’s okay to send it back).
How does the wine look in the glass?
Once the wine is poured, its appearance can disclose more about it. Whatever its color, it should be clear, not hazy. (Wines labeled “natural” or “biodynamic,” implying minimal treatment, are occasionally acceptable exceptions.)
A white wine with a dark yellow or brownish-yellow tint might be oxidized or maderized (modernization is a form of oxidation, generally owing to exposure to heat).
Does it smell bad?
Cork taint and oxidation are simply two characteristics of a wine’s bouquet. Two other defects that show up in what wine-tasters call the “nose” include the rotten egg or skunky smell of sulfur compounds, either added to the wine to stabilize it or occurring naturally during fermentation.
The good news is that if it’s not excessive, this flavor will usually diminish 15 or 20 minutes after the bottle is opened. Then there’s volatile acidity, a vinegary acetic acid aroma that is sometimes unintentional but occasionally introduced by the winemaker as a means of adding complexity. If it is purposeful, the only answer is to simply avoid the wine.