All About Wine Crystals, Orange Wine, Wine Glasses, Organic Wineries, and More
From Orange Wine and Wine Crystals to storing opened wine and using wine glasses, once you’ve dipped your toes into the world of wine and have begun to progress beyond the casual wine observer phase there seems to be a never-ending list of questions that pop up.
Here are 12 common questions often asked by wine enthusiasts looking to take their wine knowledge to the next level.
How Can You Tell if Wine Has Gone Off?
One way to tell if wine has gone bad is to look at its colour. For example, Riesling will typically turn a nice golden colour as it ages over several years but if it starts taking on more of a brown tint over time, the wine has more than likely gone off. A Riesling taking on a deeper golden colour rather quickly, say after just a year, could also be a sign that the wine’s going off as the colour change should take much longer to become noticeable.
Another effective method for testing potentially off wine is to do a smell test. Sometimes the cork can become infected with chlorophenol compounds which then interact with bacteria from the winemaking process to create trichloroanisole or TCA, also known as cork taint.
If a wine has been oxidised, it will smell flat. It’ll likely also taste flat as well, and may have a kind of mustiness to it. Like wet socks or a damp newspaper. Or, if it’s a Red Wine, a slightly port-like note can sometimes be evident. This smell can be subtle, but it can also be strong enough to force someone who’s sensitive to these types of odours to stop drinking.
One other smell or odour to watch out for is that of a struck or lit match. This particular odour is often regarded as a positive character in Chardonnay but it can also indicate high levels of sulphur when detected in other wines.
Another noticeable aroma to keep an eye, or rather nose, out for is vinegar or nail polish, something really acidic. This is a symptom of bacteria interacting with the alcohol, creating what is known as volatile acidity. This can blow off with a bit of time but it can be quite off-putting.
What Can You Do With Wine That Has Gone Bad?
If you’re at home and you’ve opened a bottle of wine that you think has gone bad, it’s usually best just to move on and just not drink that wine again. Put it aside and open something fresh.
In terms of what you can do after, if you can take the bottle back to the retailer and let them know that there’s something wrong with the wine, often they’ll replace it for you.
If you’re in a restaurant when you identify a wine that’s faulty or turned, call a waiter or sommelier over and let them know. While they could be an arse and insist that the wine’s fine and that you should finish it, they may also be understanding and get you a new bottle of the same or offer you an alternative within the same price range.
If you let the business know that there’s something wrong with the wine, they can then let the distributor know.
What Causes Bad Wine?
We used to always work on the assumption that 15% of wines were corked, tainted by TCA, so it was a part of the game. When you opened up a bottle of wine, there was a one in six or one in seven chance that the wine you were opening up was bad, or at least not as high quality as it could have been.
Nowadays though, we’ve turned a corner and winemakers are using Stelvin (screw-cap) which has dramatically reduced a lot of the complaints from consumers about corked wine. Now the cause of bad or off wine comes down to mostly unclean practices in wineries or just bad winemaking.
Unfortunately, there are still some wineries that cut corners, which then promotes these bacterial issues. Or sometimes it’s just plain bad luck. One cause of bad wine is called light strike. Light strike is caused by constant exposure to light over a prolonged period. For example, when wine is bottled and on a pallet in a warehouse, one of the bottles may be positioned so that it catches direct sunlight each day for two whole months while the other 761 bottles on the pallet are fine. It just comes down to bad luck.
What’s the Difference Between Organic Wine and Biodynamic Wine?
Organic Wines are made the same way as regular wines but every step of their production has been officially certified as being organic. Biodynamic Wines, on the other hand, are made using more traditional winemaking processes that incorporate natural fertilisers and follow the movements of the Moon and other celestial bodies. Biodynamic winemaking is more in tune with nature.
Wine can be organic or biodynamic or both.
A winery needs to meet certain requirements and be officially reviewed before its wines can carry the organic label. The specific requirements vary from organisation to organisation though almost always include restrictions on genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) and synthetic fertilisers. Similar requirements are needed to achieve a biodynamic rating, in addition to following biodynamic practices.
There’s really nothing magical about Biodynamic Wines. This is how wines were made for over a thousand years up until the 1950s when the wine industry embraced industrialisation and volume became a priority over quality. Fertilisers and pesticides were introduced to improve crop yields and reduce pestilence. Over 70 years later we have come full circle, biodynamic winemaking has been warmly re-embraced and chemicals are being swapped out for natural composting and processes that work in tandem with the cycles of the Moon and weather.
Organic and biodynamic winemaking doesn’t come without risks. For example, if the weather turns on you and you suddenly have mildew spreading on your vines, you’ll likely have to spray with copper fungicide to save the grapes or risk losing the whole crop. Using chemicals just once will lose a vineyard their organic and biodynamic status for seven years. There’s definitely some risk involved, which is why most winemakers are pragmatic in their approach. Utilising organic and biodynamic practices but not seeking certification.
About 60% of the wines we have on The Right Drop are organic, organic practice, biodynamic, biodynamic practice, or in the process of being certified organic or biodynamic.
You may also see some wines labelled as being sustainable. This means that the winemaking process for that particular wine is designed to reduce or minimise the impact of farming grapes/making wine on the Earth/environment. The underlying principle is to leave the Earth as you found it. This includes nourishing the Earth as it is farmed, ensuring all inputs are also sustainable and managing carbon miles and making efforts to be carbon neutral.
Natural Wine is another type of winemaking that is quite common. Natural winemaking involves the creation of wine in the most natural or untouched way possible with ideally zero additions such as sulphur or acid.
Unfortunately the quality of Natural Wines isn’t that great. The quality of Natural Wines is questionable. As a rule, The Right Drop won’t recommend them to clients but we will always source them if a client is interested. Most additional processing and inputs in the winemaking process are for safety and to ensure quality. Often it has nothing to do with taste. When you remove these steps and go “all-natural” you often end up with faulty wines that are best avoided.
What Is Free Run Juice in Winemaking?
Free run juice is the juice created by grapes when crushed under their own weight in the tank before any physical or mechanical crushing begins. Free run juice is considered to be the highest quality grape juice and is typically used to create high-end wine. Grape juice extracted after repeated crushes from the same grapes can then be blended and used in cheaper wines.
After the free run juice has been collected, juice from subsequent crushes can be extracted using a variety of processes such as the Bag Press where a bag is inflated on top of the grapes to crush them, the Basket Press which crushes the grapes with a basket-shaped device, and even the traditional foot technique.
Which Wine Goes in Which Glass?
Each type of wine glass is designed with a specific type of wine in mind to optimise its aroma, flavour, and tasting experience.
A Burgundy glass is designed for greater oxygenation or aeration of the wine, while also encouraging the aromas to be carried along the sides to the nose as it’s being sipped. Chardonnay, also known as White Burgundy, performs really well in this type of bulbous, wide wine glass, as do heavier textured White Wines that may require more time open before being consumed.
Many Red Wines also go well in wide glasses as the additional aeration softens the tannins and allows the drinker to better notice the aromas.
White Wines that are more acidic and don’t need the extra air exposure would do fine in a thinner glass. Sauvignon Blanc can often be seen served in a thin round glass with a conical shape that opens up at the top.
When it comes to Champagne and other Sparkling Wines, drinking them in a flute will focus the flavours and aromas while also directing the mousse, the Champagne’s bubbles, towards the top for a full, bubbly, Champagne experience. On the other hand, drinking Champagne from a coupe, the wider Champagne glass most would recognise from that iconic scene of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby, reduces the intensity of the bubbles for a softer drink. Of course, coupe glasses can also be stacked to form Champagne towers at events which also likely contributes to their popularity.
You can use the basic house wine glass for drinking any kind of wine but there is a noticeable difference when using specific glasses for certain types of wine. Exploring this area of wine tasting can enhance your experience significantly.
What Is Special About Orange Wine?
Orange Wine is made by soaking White Wine grapes with their skins for a period of time ranging from a few days to several months during the winemaking process. Maintaining skin contact with the juice, something usually done when making Red Wine, imparts phenolics, colours, aromas, flavors compounds, textures, and tannins to the wine. Creating a wine with an amber or orange colour that is more intensely flavoured than a white wine and is often more textural.
Orange Wines are originally from Italy and can be quite varied. Each Orange Wine is subject to the winemaker’s own preferences with some preferring to add a little bit of oxygenation to the wine while others may focus on manipulating its texture, the amount of tannins, or developing phenolic flavours so that more bitter notes come through.
Other names for Orange Wine include skin-contact White Wine, skin-fermented White Wine, and Amber Wine. Orange Wine can be difficult to locate in regular wine stores so you may need to drop by a specialist store that has unusual wines or visit a cellar door.
One of my favourite Orange Wines is Bestia, which is Italian for beast, made by Scorpo Wines in the Mornington Peninsula. This Orange Wine is made in a traditional Italian Orange winemaking style and it’s lovely.
How Long Does Open Wine Last?
A good quality bottle of wine can often still be good three or even four days after it’s opened, as long as it’s been placed in the fridge and its cap has been tightly screwed back on. Some wines can even be fine up to a week after being opened though this is the exception more than the rule.
It’s important to make sure that the cap is screwed on tightly and that the bottle is placed in the fridge as soon as possible. Both actions will reduce the wine’s exposure to air and moisture. Usually, wines selling for over $30 will last a few days.
For information on how to store unopened wine, check out our article on organising your wine collection.
Can You Drink Wine With Crystals?
Wine crystals, or wine diamonds, are formed when the potassium in the wine binds with the tartaric acid creating Potassium Bitartrate which is insoluble so it “falls” out of the wine. Wine crystals typically collect on the cork or along the bottom of the bottle, although they can also be seen floating within the wine itself.
Red Wine crystals will appear brown or red while White Wine crystals can look yellow or even crystal clear. Often mistaken for glass, sugar, or salt. Wine crystals are completely harmless and don’t affect a wine at all. In fact, the formation of these crystals actually reduces the amount of acid in a wine which can be seen as a positive.
What Is a Stelvin?
Stelvin is the name used to refer to the metallic screw caps (capsules) on wine bottles. Stelvin caps have increased dramatically in popularity in recent years in Australia though they still tend to have the perception of being cheap or lower quality than corks in regions like China and the United States.
This perception of Stelvin being a lower quality wine bottle seal is unjustified however as the screw cap boasts a 5% failure rate. This means that there is a low chance of spoiling the wine or breaking. The traditional cork, on the other hand, has a failure rate of around 15% which is significantly higher.
Stelvin caps are also generally much cheaper for wineries to use than corks, typically just costing around 15 cents each as opposed to corks which can cost as much as 50 cents.
Wineries that refuse to use Stelvin will typically source their own cork or use a plastic or composite cork like Diam. Diam is a specially made cork which is infused with supercritical carbon dioxide that removes any present chemical impurities.
What Does Climate Mean in Wine?
Where grapes are grown can greatly affect how a wine will taste. In a warm climate, White and Red grapes will produce wines that are big and rich, with more full-bodied flavours on the front palate. This is due to the sugars in the grapes developing much faster in the heat.
Grapes grown in cooler climates take longer to develop the sugars that contribute to their ripeness. This results in both Red and White cool climate wines that have more delicate and evolved flavours that develop on the middle of the palate.
High altitude wines are considered cool climate wines. Extremely cool climate. Lark Hill Winery in Canberra used to have the highest altitude vineyard in Australia at around 860 metres elevation but since then others have been established at greater heights such as vineyards on the slopes of Mount Canobolas in Orange that are as high as 1000m.
The higher you go, the less humidity you get and the more consistent sunshine there is. This provides cool nights that allows the grapes to retain acid and produce wonderfully balanced flavours.
Is a Wine Decanter Necessary?
No. As we have discussed previously in other articles, the purpose of decanting is to either remove sediment or aerate the wine (to oxygenate and open it up). Decanting wine is a great experience that will help you get more enjoyment out of a bottle but it’s not something that you’ll need to do most of the time. If you are sitting down to dinner with company and you want to get the most out of a bottle of wine, then by all means decant. But if you’re at a bar or a party, a faster paced environment, it’s not really necessary.
Looking to broaden your wine knowledge even further? Check out are dedicated introductions to Red Wine, White Wine, Rosé, and Shiraz. Need some help organising your wine shelves or cellar? Make sure to give our New Year Wine Clean-Up article a read.