What Makes Wine Go Bad? 5 Factors To Consider

One of the most disappointing moments in life is opening up a bottle of wine and realizing that it’s spoiled. While it may seem trivial to consider such an occurrence as such a detrimental moment, you have to realize that we’re passionate about wine.

Besides, it’s embarrassing to return a bad bottle of wine at a restaurant. And, it’s frustrating when you find that perfect bottle, only to come home and discover you wasted your money. Remember, we’re talking about wine that has a default flavor profile, not ranting about wines that taste horrible. So, how exactly does a bottle of wine go bad? There are several factors that can explain so.


Perhaps the most common fault in wine is oxidation. This occurs when the wine is overexposed to oxygen, which is wine’s worst enemy. Oxidation will lead wine to lose it’s flavor, giving it a lifeless taste and resembling vinegar. Color will also be affected. White wines will appear darker and others will become cloudy.

Environmental Conditions

There are various environmental conditions that can ruin a bottle of wine. These can occur from the wine-making process to bottling to storage. Here’s a rundown of the most common environmental problems.

  • Tainted cork, or TCA, occurs when mold grows on a chlorine bleached cork, or even in the barrel. It creates an earthy, moldy and musty aroma that masks the wines natural fruit aromas.
  • Heat exposure, or maderized, happens when the wine is literally cooked. This is a result of in-proper storage, meaning the wine has spent an excessive amount of time above  55°F.
  • Lightstrike can be a problem when a bottle of wine has been overexposed to UV radiation.
  • Ladybird taint can turn wine rancid when bugs, mostly beetles like ladybirds or Asian lady beetle, are harvested along with grapes.
  • Brettanomyces, or simply Brett, is simply yeast spoilage. Since this thrives on wood products, like barrels, we’ll go ahead and say that this is an environmental condition. Once a winery has been infected, it’s difficult to get rid of, since it can transfer from wood to wood. The result is a wine that tastes like a barnyard or wet dog.


Sometimes, a bottle of  wine will undergo a second fermentation. This happens when dormant yeasts wake up. It’s usually caused by a non-sterile environment during bottling. The result is a sweet wine becoming fizzy, like champagne, which is why refermentation can be  called “spritziness”.

Sulfides (H2S)

These sulfur-containing compounds can take place during the fermentation process when they excrete yeast. The result is the very unpleasant smell of rotten eggs.

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)

SO2 has always played a role in wine-making, and in fact it’s crucial in the wine’s preservation. However, when SO2 has been used in excess, or not managed properly, it can ruin a bottle of wine by sending out an aroma of burnt rubber or matchsticks. It can even lead to allergic reactions or headaches.

Volatile Acidity (VA)

If your wine smells like nail polish or vinegar, there is most likely an excessive amount of volatile acidity. While VA is a part of the natural fermentation process, so most wines have it in moderation, our old friend oxygen can cause the levels to rise by accelerating lactic acid bacteria and wild yeasts.

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