We’ve all been there. The waiter brings the wine you have ordered and asks you to taste it. But what are you really looking for? Strictly speaking, there is really only one main reason to send back a bottle of wine: if it is either corked or oxidized. Wines can also be “maderized” or experience bottle fermentation but both these are rare.
A wine is “corked” when it has come in contact with a contaminated cork during the aging process; hence the name. The wine will smell damp and musky or worse, and will have lost the fruit and roundness one expects from an untarnished wine. If in doubt ask the sommelier. And by the way, you can’t tell if a wine corked by smelling the cork. Waiters sometimes offer you the cork but it is nothing more than an archaic gesture.
Wine is oxidized when it is exposed to air. Oxidized wines – white and white and rosé wines in particular – taste flat and lifeless and look dull.
Harder to detect is a wine that has been “baked” or Maderized (the terms comes from the taste of these wines which resembles that of Madeira sherry) It will taste of almonds and candied fruits, so unless it’s a pudding wine, send it back pronto.
Bottle fermentation is another fault to look out for. Yeasts that are still active can cause a wine to undergo one last spurt of fermentation in the bottle, giving a fizz taste that can be detected on the tip of the tongue. Again, unless it’s a sparkling wine, something is wrong.
Just remember that you can’t automatically send a wine back simply because you don’t like it. If in doubt, ask the sommelier to recommend wines based on your favorites wine style.