Other Off-Odors In Wine

Wine Faults: Every Other Stinky Wine Odor

Here is the last installation on wine faults: off-odors in wine. I’m going to go into the remaining wine odors to look for but in case you missed the others posts you can find them here:

When it comes to wine faults, speedy and accurate identification of is advantageous for both winemakers and consumers alike. For the winemaker simple actions can often correct the problem before the must hits the fan and the wine fault becomes irreversible. For the wine consumer, it’s a much simpler matter of returning the faulted bottle.

If you’ve followed my previous post you know how your senses understand wine so it’s probably no surprise that smell is the most important tool to detect wine faults, with taste coming in second.

The primary wine off-odors, sulfur compounds and bacterial agents are fairly easy to pick out. So now we’re going to learn about wine odors that don’t really have categories. We’ll just call them “other off-odors in wine” for simplicity’s sake.

Aldehydic / Oxidized Wines

Have you ever had a wine that tasted nutty? Sherries have a familiar nuttiness to them; it’s a normal process of excessive esterification (a chemical process involving acetaldehyde for aging wine). But with other wines, typically white wines, it’s a sign that the wine has been overexposed to oxygen at some point. Other noticeable characteristics of an oxidized wine might be an aroma of must or a swampy stink. Yum.

Maderized Wines

Another oxygen-induced wine fault is maderization. Typically characterized in a white wine that has a brownish tinge from excessive exposure to heat and oxygen or having spent too much time barrel aging. This also describes Madeira, a fortified wine made in Portugal similar to Sherry, intentionally exposed to heat and oxygen in a “slow-cook” process. Maderized wines will smell of bourbon or caramel. But that can’t be a bad thing, right? Wrong. That kind of wine has been in the sun too long. Like some of you drinking it.

Stemmy Wines

A stemmy wine is one that smells of unripe grape stems or has a “green” flavor (everyone has eaten a random leaf from a bush at some point in their life — that’s what green tastes like. Unlike what purple tastes like in a grape drink) and is caused by prolonged exposure to the grape stems during fermentation. Sometimes called “stalky”. Have you even been stalkied?

Leesy Wine

That’s not a wine that can’t be bothered to ever do anything. It’s a pungent odor that may develop if wine spends too long in contact with dead yeast cells during fermentation. Leesy wines have a toasty, roasted-grain aroma.


If a moldy smell and flavor can be detected in a wine, it’s generally a signal that it was made from moldy grapes or stored in improperly cleaned or deteriorating barrels or filter pads. I haven’t got one for this. Wine basics. Let’s move on.


Excessive sulfur or a very high ph due to mercaptans in the wine will give off a rubbery smell in old white wines. Say it with me, “Rubbah.”

Wet Cardboard

Best known as cork taint or Trichloroanisole 2,4,6 or TCA. Like sulfites that naturally occur in the fermentation stage of winemaking, TCA naturally occurs in cork forests. However, a wine affected by cork taint is most often the result of improper cleaning of the cork after bleaching. Cork is ugly. Bleach makes it look clean. Bad cork taint wine. Me hungry.

You get a big fat face of wet cardboard or wet basement stink in a corked wine.

You can also get a wet cardboard odor from bad filter pads or improper filtering methods and even light-struck wines. You may have noticed sparkling wines bottled in dark bottles? This is to avoid excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, which will give it the wet cardboard smell.

As cork taint affects roughly 5% of all wine bottled today, you will have seen the growing popularity of using screw caps and synthetic cork, the same material prosthetics are made from. Screw caps having once had a notorious association with crap wines are now commonly accepted for being used with quality juice. And they come in handy when you find yourself without a corkscrew.


“Brett” is a strain of yeast that can find its way into a wine before and after it is bottled, commonly caused by unsanitary conditions in the winery. Dirty crush equipment, crush lines and contaminated barrels. As with most chemical agents added to wine, Bretts can give a wine complexity with aromas of leather, clove, smoke and sometimes bacon. Yeah, but bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good, as Vincent once said. The bad side of Brett is the smell of Band-Aids, dirty socks, or barnyard. Horse chops anyone?

Don’t be discouraged by all the wine fault talk. In my decade plus of wine experience I’ve only encountered maybe a handful of wine faults. For the wine beginner, knowing off-odors is essential to wine basics so when you smell something rotten in Denmark, you know it’s not you and most likely is the wine. And with your new wine knowledge, you’ll be able to pinpoint what the wine fault is.

Continuing our quest to learn about wine, I’ll be getting into various mainstream wine varieties and their personalities in the next post. What you’ll learn about wine is, as there is a world of difference between each grape variety, there is a world of difference within each variety, too. Next time: grape varieties.

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