Wine Flaws 101...
There are two main flaws in wine, oxidation and "corked."
- Oxidation occurs when corks dry out, they may shrivel a bit, allowing air into the bottle, which can cause the wine to oxidize. The signs of oxidation are a darkening and browning of the wine's color (just as apples darken and turn brown when their flesh is exposed to air), and a loss of freshness and vibrancy to the fruit taste. That said, a crumbly cork needn't always be bad news. If the wine's fruit still seems lively when you pour the first glass, just fish out the cork fragments with a spoon and enjoy. If the wine is oxidized, a reliable retailer will replace the bottle with a fresh one or refund your money if you return the bottle to them (don't pour out the contents).
- A "corked" wine is one whose scent, flavor, or both have picked up a mustiness (like the smell of wet cardboard or wet newspapers) from the cork, caused by a chemical called TCA which, while not harmful to your health, definitely makes the wine unpleasant. While corkiness is fairly rare (can be 3-5% of wines served in restaurants), it is common enough that many manufacturers have opted to use synthetic corks made of a plastic-like substance, or even screwtops.