Spotting a faulty wine

There are a lot of ways you can damage wine, especially by not storing or serving it properly, or by decanting it when it shouldn’t be.

Sometimes, however, through no fault of your own, the wine in a bottle might be damaged upon arrival.

This is very rare; a recent study found only 1.2% of wines were corked or otherwise defective. But it does happen every so often.

If you have a damaged wine, it will not taste like it is supposed to; it might even taste terrible. Even the best wine in the world will make critics want to smash up their wine goblets in disgust if it is corked or damaged.

But how do you tell?

After all, some bottles can look beat up or strange on the outside, yet the wines still taste excellent!

And the wine may not taste great to you, yet still be fine.

We have made you a little chart.

Indicator Faulty Good Explanation
The label is damaged. A label can get damaged during delivery or storage without any impact on the wine inside the bottle.
There are little white crystals around the cork. The crystals are harmless! They are simply the sign that the wine was not filtered before bottling, which is often the case for finer wines.
There is a small amount of sediment at the bottom of the wine bottle. Common for aged wines. You can decant the sediment out when you serve the wine.
There are small bits of cork floating at the top of my bottle or glass. This probably just means that you pushed the corkscrew all the way through the bottom of the cork when you opened the bottle. Perfectly fine. (But it might also mean that the cork is damaged, in which case the wine might be bad. See next entries)
When I opened the bottle, the cork started to disintegrate and flake into tiny pieces. ? ? Might be faulty, or might be good. Older bottles often do this, but are perfectly fine. Try the wine. If it tastes funny, aerate it for an hour and try it again. If it still tastes funny, you may have a problem.
When I try my wine, it tastes like vinegar. I’ve left it out for an hour or two, to let it aerate, but it still tastes the same. This means the wine has been over-oxidized, at some point in its aging process. Air has seeped in past the cork, and has made the wine dull, flat, and lifeless.
The wine smells like a wet basement or dirty socks — moldy and mildewy. It tastes raspy, astringent, and sometimes like paint thinner. This is what’s called a “corked” wine. It happens when the wine has come into contact with a contaminated cork (one infected with microorganisms) back at the winery.
The cork was pushed out before I even started to open it. The wine reminds me of Madera. The wine has been overheated, cooked, or “maderized”. Literally, the wine’s gotten so hot, it has baked in its bottle. This is often due to incorrect storage of wines.
I didn’t order a champagne or sparkling wine, but for some reason, there are bubbles in my wine. This means the wine has accidentally undergone a secondary fermentation process during its shipment. We do not advise you drink it.