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Category Archives: Wine terms

Wine terms: Flawed

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Wine terms: flawedIn which the wine is spoiled, usually oxidized or corked, but that also takes in a host of more geeky flaws like volatile acidity and brett. Technically, there’s a difference between a wine fault and a wine flaw; a fault is a major defect, like oxidation, and the latter is less important, like brett. But both mean the wine is off, and the terms are used interchangeably, even by experts.

The good news is that very little wine, especially compared to 10 and 20 years ago, is flawed. Growing techniques and production methods for almost all of the wine we buy are infinitely better than they were, which means better quality grapes are combined with cleaner, more quality conscious winemaking. Hence it’s very difficult to find a flawed wine on a retail shelf.

The easiest way to detect a flawed wine? If it doesn’t taste or smell the way it’s supposed to. An oxidized wine will taste like bad brandy and a corked wine will smell of wet newspapers or a damp basement. Volatile acidity often smells like a band aid, while brett is like a barnyard.

In this, note the difference between a wine that is flawed and wine that is made poorly or in a style that you don’t like. An example of the latter is high alcohol, which I don’t like but is not a flaw — even though I wish it was. An example of the former are overly-bitter tannins. When we did our tastings at the Cordon Bleu, several of my students insisted that the wine was flawed because the tannins were very harsh. That tannins, by their nature, can be harsh and bitter never seemed to satisfy them, and neither did my explanation that tannin management isn’t a high priority in many cheap red wines.

Wine terms: Problematic pricing

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Problematic pricingYou may see the wine term problematic pricing or pricing is problematic in a review, and especially in one of the mini-reviews that runs on the final Friday of each month. It’s mostly what it seems: If it’s problematic, the wine’s price is a problem, and the problem is that it that doesn’t offer enough value for its price.

Still, this hasn’t been clear to enough people, and so the need for this post. One PR woman in particular wasn’t quite sure what it meant. Either I liked her wine or I didn’t, and what did price have to do with it?

Price, of course, has everything to do with it.  It’s not enough that a wine is cheap (or expensive, for that matter). Does it offer more value than it costs? Or is it just cheap, like most of the $5 wine the big retail chains sell? Or is it marketing driven, where you’re paying for what’s on the label as much as for what’s in the bottle?

I asked the great Lynne Kleinpeter about this, because I trust her palate, in many ways, even more than I trust my own. If nothing else, she can be objective when she tastes the kind of wine that makes me want to write horrible, misanthropic reviews. Her answer: “When I would buy this wine at this price? If it was the only wine in the store, and I didn’t have a choice.”

Wine pricing doesn’t get more problematic than that.

How to make wine

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No one believes how easy it is to make wine. My Cordon Bleu classes didn’t, and neither do most people when I speak to groups and do cheap wine book promotions. That’s because the wine business has done such a brilliant job of confusing the issue that everyone assumes you need a zillion dollars, a hillside vineyard, and a tortured genius pacing up and down the barrel room. Far from it: Get some juice, add yeast or sugar, shake well, and let it sit.

The only time a Cordon Bleu class believed me came when an ex-con, who was one of the students, vouched for the method. In the joint, he said, the inmates would sneak sugar packets and cartons of orange juice out of the cafeteria to their cells and follow just that recipe.

Now, will this be quality wine? Probably not. I’ve done it, and it reminded me why I like writing about wine more than making it. At best, you get a Kosher-style wine, sweet and grapey; at worst, and I know this first-hand, the fermentation fails and you have a slimy mess to throw out.

Having said that, this is something every wine drinker should know. Knowledge is power, and we don’t have nearly enough knowledge. The video below, courtesy of MiWilderness on YouTube, does the job in all its amateurish glory. The comments, with suggestions for improving wine quality, are also worth reading. My favorite part comes when he shakes the bottle, giving the concept of stirring the lees a completely different perspective.

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