ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

How can I tell corked wine from brettanomyces or some other type of taint? And what other taints are out there?

—Daniel S., Salem, Ore.

Dear Daniel,

The chemical TCA (trichloroanisole) causes what's commonly known as "cork taint" (although corks are not the only source). A "corked" or "corky" wine is often described as musty, dank or moldy, or like a basement, wet cardboard, damp cement or the smell of old books.

Brettanomyces, or "brett," is a spoilage yeast with elements politely described as barnyard (which sounds better than "cow shit"). Other descriptors include Band-Aids and horse stable. I often associate a strange metallic note with the cow-pie notes of brett.

There are plenty of other faults, but I'll just mention three common ones. Volatile acidity, or "V.A.," is most often described like nail polish remover, vinegar, model airplane glue or Magic Markers. Excessive sulfur in a wine will smell like boiled eggs, struck matches, burnt rubber, onions or boiled cabbage. And wines that become oxidized taste prematurely aged, like Sherry, with notes of nuttiness or bruised apples.

If you're still not sure what's what, you could actually get a "wine fault kit" that replicates these aromas. It's not my idea of fun, but it could be helpful.

—Dr. Vinny

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