Faults fewer now but still around

The age-old dining ritual of the waiter offering you a taste isn’t asking whether you "like" the wine; rather, giving you the opportunity to check whether the wine is suffering from any faults. The advent of screwcaps and modern winemaking has significantly lessened the amount of faulty wines, but here are some things to look out for.

Cork taint — corked wines

Nothing to do with bits of cork floating in the wine, but a random taint that develops in the cork itself, following the sterilisation process, creating a pungent compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). This leads to aromas and flavours of wet cardboard, old books and blocked drains and while harmless, this is not pleasurable to drink. At very low levels it can "flatten" a wine, diminishing the range of aromas and flavours.

Premature oxidation — premox/poxed

Cut an apple in half and leave it on the bench; that browning is oxidation. Seems more prevalent in white wines, a bottle that is ageing more quickly than anticipated, showing a darker than expected colour and notes of bruised apple or sherry.

Brettanomyces — Brett

The arrival of Brett doesn’t mean a mate of your brother’s popping round; this is a slightly controversial yeast spoilage agent. Controversial because at low levels some strains can add leathery, smoky, slightly funky notes to a wine, that can be seen as adding complexity. Also, the many brett influenced beers on the market regard the characters as an intrinsic part of the beer. More extreme examples in wine see band-aid characters, or horse sweat/sweaty saddle notes, which are not desirable.

Volatile acidity — VA

Like brett, at low levels this can be part of the complexity and it is commonplace in wines like sauternes, port and amarone. The two major compounds involved are acetic acid (vinegar) and ethyl acetate (nail polish remover or paint thinner) and at high levels can lend sharpness and sourness to the wine.

Mousiness — mouse taint

A bacterial taint that you taste, rather than smell, as it reacts with the saliva in your mouth. Pops up in some natural wines with zero sulphur addition. Flat lager or curdled milk and old hamster cage are terrifyingly evocative descriptors.

Cooked wine

Where wines have been exposed to significant heat during shipping and/or storage. An oozing cork would be a giveaway, the wine can be flat and lifeless with marked astringency and little or no finish. Hard to decisively spot.


Not a fault though in the past might be regarded as such, as pristinely clear wine was the accepted rule. With more wineries choosing to eschew fining and filtration (the clarification processes), and natural or lo-fi winemakers seeking to reduce any intervention in the winemaking, a degree of cloudiness may be an intrinsic part of the wine. Pet-Nats with their yeast lees in the bottle a clear example.


Again, not at all a fault, as this is the natural elements in the wine coalescing over time as sediment. Someone came up with term "wine diamonds" for tartrates, which can be very visible in whites, forming as crystals, fine sand or even what can appear to be shards of glass but are entirely harmless. In reds, tartrates, tannins and anthocyanins can precipitate out and is often why people choose to decant the wine, leaving the sediment behind.

 - The three wines below are clean, bright and fault free!


2020 Pegasus Bay North Canterbury Merlot Cabernet

Price RRP $35
Rating Very Good to Excellent

Something a little dark 
and mysterious about 
this, dusty, earthy, plum 
and berryfruit 
swelling, crushed 
leaf. The palate 
follows the nose, 
good flavour depth 
and concentration, 
the tannin structure 
evident with a lick of 
acidity adding 
freshness. Becomes 
more chewy with 
time adding a stalky, 
bittersweet element 
to the close.



2021 Craggy Range Te Kahu S.V Gimblett Gravels Vineyard

Price RRP $32.95
Rating Excellent to Outstanding

Brightness, a sense of 
coolness, anise, eucalypt, 
lead pencil, dustiness, 
tobacco, leaf nuances, 
dark fruits. Tautness to 
this in a good way, 
crunchy & vibrant, nice 
interplay between the 
fruit, tannins and 
acidity, ripe yet nicely 
dry. The wine fleshes 
out in the glass, yet 
retains a sense of 
elegance while the 
flavours linger long on 
the lip-smacking close. 



2021 Craggy Range S.V Gimblett Gravels Merlot 

Price RRP $40.95
Rating Excellent

Tilled earth, milk 
chocolate, dark berryfruits 
and blueberry. Rich and 
full on entry, a touch of 
creaminess before the 
tannins and acidity 
get into their stride. 
Lovely poise and 
balance to this, the 
acidity lending a 
tangy brightness as a 
contrast to the fruit 
richness, again ripe, 
yet dry. Deceptive 
power underpinning 
this and structural 
backbone. Great with 
food now.