Wine Academy part 2: When is a wine bad?


Jeroen van Mierlo teaches wine courses, in which he teaches people the basics about wine. In this biweekly column ‘Wine Academy’ he answers the 25 most asked questions about wine. In part 1 of this series we answered the question ‘When is a wine good?’. This time we’ll answer the exact opposite question: ‘When is a wine bad?’.

Recognizing a bad wine

Have you ever tried a wine with cork taint? Once you do, you’ll immediately know it’s bad. We call this a ‘wine fault’. A wine can have a flavour that doesn’t suit your taste, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad wine. For example when there is a imbalance between the tannin, alcohol, acidity and sweetness. This gives it a bad taste, but it doesn’t make the wine faulty. A real wine fault is for example a wine with cork taint, oxidized wine, moderated wine or when there are tiny bubbles forming in the wine.

Wine with cork taint

A wine with cork taint will usually have a very stale smell. Think of old basements, wet cardboard, a wet dog or an old kitchen wipe. All the aromas of fruit and herbs will be gone from the wine. If you still have the guts to try the wine after being confronted with that smell, it will most likely taste like cork. Very dry and bitter.

Oxidized wine

When a wine is oxidized you will smell it immediately. The wine has very little aroma left and will only smell a bit of overripe apples and nuts. Or old sherry. Not a smell you want to go for! It will have a very typical nutty character and a bit of a chemical tone in the flavour.


This is a fancy word for saying the wine has been kept wrong over time. For example the wine rack in your living room. How long has the wine been there? How about the temperature differences in the room? A wine that has been in a warm environment for too long can get a bit of a ‘cooked’ character. The wine gets an aroma of dried fruits and roasted nuts, instead of fresh fruits. This is fine for a port wine, but doesn’t belong to a ‘normal’ red wine.

Bubbles forming in wine

Sometimes it happens that tiny bubbles start to form in the wine that don’t belong there. This is definitely a wine fault. It means that not all the yeast cells were done yeasting when the wine was made. This means they continued yeasting in the bottle. The process of yeasting in the bottle creates the little bubbles that come free when the wine is poured into a glass. Usually this won’t influence the flavour of the wine too much, but it can happen that it causes an imbalance in flavour. In this case there is only one solution: pour in through the sink.

Organising your own wine tasting? Get yourself a Wine Server & Saver, so you can try different wines and save them afterwards. Never waste a good wine!