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Common wine ‘flaws’ and wine faults – a guide

Like Marmite, we might have to agree to disagree when it comes to our own tolerance for wine faults. Either way, love them or hate them, it’s useful to know more about the ‘flaws’ you may encounter, says Natasha Hughes MW

Wine faults: Volatile acidity

Volatile acidity (or VA) is, as the name suggests, composed of those acids within a wine that can be smelled, as opposed that can be detected on the palate. The major culprits are acetic acid (which smells of vinegar) and its associated ester, ethyl acetate (an odour reminiscent of nail polish); the balance of these compounds is individual to each batch of affected wine. Like brettanomyces, the bacteria that cause volatile acidity thrive in high-sugar, low-acid environments.

Although the presence of high amounts of VA is considered undesirable, in some cases a touch of volatility is no bad thing – particularly when it comes to botrytised wines. ‘The best Sauternes are full of volatility,’ says Jan Konetzki, head sommelier at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. ‘It adds a savoury character that helps balance the wine. Without it, sweet wines usually lack complexity.’

Volatility also has its place in the aromatic profile of certain red wines, particularly those that have spent prolonged time in barrel. This may be why VA is often (and increasingly erroneously) associated with Italian reds, particularly traditional styles of Amarone and Barolo.

VA is not restricted to Italy, of course: Chateau Musar, Lebanon’s most famous red, tends towards volatility, as do some Châteauneufs-du-Pâpe. Even that most delicate of grapes, Pinot Noir, can benefit from a trace of VA, which in small doses can enhance its floral tones. The presence of VA in dry white wines, however, is widely considered an out-and-out fault

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