When determining if a wine is flawed or not, there are certain smells that typically signal a problem. The level of problem really is dependent upon the drinker him/herself, as burnt match aromas might be ok with me, while band-aid aromas might be ok with you. However, by at least knowing what to look for, you can have a better idea of whether the wine is “just not your style” or if it’s actually flawed. If it’s flawed, definitely bring it back to the wine store or let your server know, if you’re in a restaurant. If it’s just not your style, well, you know not to pick that wine the next time.
As you get ready to smell the wine, remember that you don’t actually have to smell the cork. You may not be able to tell anything from the cork, and anything that you can discern can be discovered from sniffing the wine itself. So, grab your glass and swirl your wine. Don’t be afraid to put your nose into the glass, and then take a nice, deep breath through your nose.
Do you smell wet cardboard or a musty basement?
This is one of the more common types of wine flaws, and it’s often referred to as cork taint or as being corked. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to “uncork” a corked wine. Having pieces of cork floating in your wine is not cork taint. Can it be unpleasant? Definitely, but it’s a flaw of the person who opened the wine, not of the wine itself.
Do you smell burnt match, rubber, cabbage, garlic, onion, or rotten egg aromas?
This type of flaw is also one of the more common flaws, and often indicates some type of sulfur-related issue. Sometimes the aromas can be removed by aerating the wine, so definitely don’t give up on it immediately. Try swirling the wine around in your glass or letting it breathe a little to see if the unpleasant aromas dissipate, and if so, decanting the wine will help you deal with the problem. I’ve also read that putting a penny in the wine can help, but I haven’t tried that trick. I usually just decant the wine.
Do you smell barnyard, band-aid, metallic, or rancid aromas?
If you do, and you find these aromas unpleasant, there is little that can be done to remove them and make it more palatable. The wine probably has a brettanomyces problem, commonly referred to as Brett. Brettanomyces is a yeast that in small doses can actually add nice aromas to a wine, but in large doses will spoil it.
Do you smell vinegar, nail polish remover, mouse-y, wet wool, or spoiled cheese aromas?
These smells indicate various bacteria problems, and there is little that can be done to remove those characteristics from the wine.