Funk in your Wine? How Come?

bacteria is causing your wine to have a funk
Bacteria can cause wine to have a Funk

Is there a Funk or a Skunk in my wine?

Hopefully many of you have spent the last week wandering around sniffing all sorts of things. With any luck, you smelled some pleasant things, but what if the experience wasn’t so pleasant or had a FUNK?

This week we will be talking about identifying some common wine faults.

Wine is a wonderfully complex living thing that often is a host for many different “critters” – bacteria, microbes and yeasts. These little critters can sneak into a bottle and produce some very stink results. But don’t worry, from my understanding, there are no known pathogens that can kill you, just create an unpleasant experience.

So how do you know if you wine is good or bad? Well you first need to know what the good stuff smells like so that you can identify when it has a funk and doesn’t smell right or smells unappealing or unpleasant.

So grab that partial bottle of wine from on top of the fridge (since last Friday), pull the cork and pour a glass of brownish-orange color stuff that smells flat and tastes bitter. You probably guessed this one; your wine has oxidized and is now probably ruined. Sorry you can’t fix it and if it’s not good enough to drink, then don’t even consider cooking with it. Say goodbye and pour it down the drain.

So let’s say that bottle was up there opened for a long time and now smells like red wine vinegar; well it is vinegar. The bacteria Acetobacter is responsible and it is a natural process that converts alcohol to vinegar; splash it on a salad and mourn the loss.

How about this one: dank, wet newspaper, moldy basement or smelly dog. Lovely, your bottle has been infected with 2,4,6-Trichloroanisol (aka Cork Taint) often caused by chlorine getting into the winemaking process. Andrew Waterhouse from UC Davis claims that if you put the wine in a bowl covered by plastic wrap the TCA will be pulled from your wine, give it a try.

Next up is a smoky, burnt match, rotten egg, skunk or fart. Don’t worry, if you decant and vigorously swirl the wine, the Sulfur compounds and smells should blow off and leave your wine smelling a whole lot better.

Now for the big one: Brettanomyces bruxellensis (Brett) is wild yeast that loves hanging out in the winery. In small quantities, Brett can add complexity and interest to a wine; such as many French Boudreaux’s. But let’s get into some of the aromas Brett can produce by different active compounds:

  • 4-ethyl phenol – Band-aids, antiseptic or horse stable.
  • 4-ethyl guaiacol – smoked bacon, spices, cloves.
  • Isovaleric acid – sweaty animals, rancid oil, cheese
  • Other – wet dog, poop, burnt beans, plastic, rotten vegetables and dead mouse.

So remember, first look, then smell, then swirl and then identify what you smell. We hope it smells good, but now you know what to look for when a wine is faulted or has a funk. Happy sniffing.