What’s that Smell? How to Tell if Wine Is Bad


What’s that smell?

Ever opened a bottle and thought it might be off? Before you jump to conclusions, be informed about common wine faults and how to spot them. Nod approval with confidence when tasting bottles at restaurants. Here’s our quick guide to common wine faults and how to spot them.

Nail Polish Remover

A smell of nail polish remover is a sign the wine has elevated levels of volatile acidity. You’ve probably already experienced this when leaving a bottle open for a few days. Volatile acidity develops when wine is exposed to oxygen for extended periods of time, enabling acetic bacteria to feed on the alcohol. The end product is vinegar!

Wet Cardboard

Often referred to as “corked” wine, a smell of wet cardboard or mold could be the result of TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole). The origins of TCA are from wood that comes into contact with chloride chemicals. The cork is usually the culprit but TCA can also be transmitted into the wine from barrels and the general cellar environment as it spreads.

Roasted Nuts

A nutty smell is a sign of oxidation. When wine is exposed to oxygen over time its flavor profile gets affected. There are however some fortified wines like Sherry that use oxidation intentionally as a technique to incorporate a nutty flavor.

Rotten Egg

A stink bomb of rotten eggs can come from the fermentation process when yeast is starved of nutrients and produces sulfur compounds. Once the nutrients are exhausted, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is produced as a byproduct which stinks pretty bad.


A bit of a barnyard smell may or may not be intentional. It’s a result of the microorganism Brettanomyces infecting the wine at various levels. Some wine producers, in France mainly, favor small amounts of this aroma to compliment a mix of fruit and oak character.

Canned Vegetables

Wine that smells like canned veggies is most likely a sign of oxidation, heat damage, or simply being stored in the refrigerator for an extended period. Some wines can also obtain a vegetal aspect if the grapes came from vines that were over vigorous.

Paul Moretti
Paul Moretti

I'm a guy who wants to share some knowledge and make wine less intimidating for the average person. I'm also a grape grower, winemaker, tech geek, avid whiskey drinker, dance commander, BBQ pit master, never-ending scholar, and family man.