When is a flaw not a fault? When it’s a taint

I have been doing a lot of thinking about wine faults recently – firstly as a result of attending a wine faults workshop organised by Jancis Robinson and her team, then through considering some comments about homemade wines in Eastern Europe and Georgia, and most recently from reading Jamie Goode’s book Flawless – and I have a few personal conclusions on the matter I’d like to share.

Although there are one or two grey areas, I agree with those who think it is helpful to divide wine flaws into faults and taints. In this classification, faults have their origins in the basic aspects of growing grapes and making wine. It is possible to avoid them only by using high-intervention viticulture and vinification, and even then vestiges will remain in some form or other. Faults include reduction, oxidation, volatile acidity, and brett. Taints on the other hand come from external sources that do not necessarily have anything at all to do with wine. An example is TCA contamination from corks; also smoke, ladybirds and eucalyptus, all of which can taint grapes in the vineyard.

Let’s take a brief look at taints here, and I’ll cover faults in my next post. To be called a taint, the added flavour cannot be entirely intentional and, if in large enough concentrations that can easily be attained, it negatively impacts the quality of the wine. Some taints are pretty much universally regarded as bad if they can be detected – cork taint is a clear example of this. Others, like eucalyptus, can be seen as a positive if not too strong, and can even be regarded as part of terroir. Note also, that the concentration of eucalyptus in the finished product is sometimes managed by the winemaker, by blending wines from grapes at different distances from the trees.

Essentially, what I am saying is that each type of taint should be considered individually, depending on how much it is liked or reviled. I would argue that, although each individual taint may have its own complexities and management issue, taints are straightforward in principle: they do not really belong in wine, but not all of them are unpleasant and some can be even desirable.

On the other hand, I think faults – flaws which are intrinsic to wine, remember – are more complex, and more controversial. If you disagree that flaws are controversial, wait until you read my next post 😉

Update 06/01/19: It now occurs to me that, in addition to faults and taints, there is a third class of flaw: one that results from poor post-bottling storage. Examples of this are heat damage, lightstrike, and oxidation due to a poor cork. I think these are closer to taints than faults, as they do not have a direct cause in the winemaking process, and if we call them taints my arguments should still work.

About Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast
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