I’ve written numerous blog posts here over the years advising how to differentiate between wine growing countries, grapes, regions, and wine in general.
However, the consequence of encountering a bad wine happens to every drinker sooner or later. You come home excited for the first sip of wine, pop that cork, and then realise you’ve got a real stinker. You might end up pouring it down the drain.
But, hold-on, it’s still usable, so why not rehabilitate it? All it takes is a basic understanding of flavour and scent, along with some household items.
What I want to write about in this post is what to do if you’ve landed a bit of a wine stinker. Usually this happens with very cheap bottles of wine aka bottom shelf wines from supermarkets. But there are ways to make cheap wine better, if you're willing to get a little creative.
Before you read on though, I have one caveat for you. If you are still in the early stages of your wine learning endeavours, don’t spend more than an amount you’re absolutely comfortable with on wine.
Bad Wine Rehabilitated
In truth, cheap wine doesn’t need to be sipped and contemplated at all. Anyway, here are 10 ideas that might help you rehabilitate almost any wine (or at least trick yourself into tolerating it).
1. Pair it with cheese
The pairing of cheese and wine is unquestionably perfect. It is possible to mask the stronger taste of a wine with the sharpness of the cheese, and vice versa. A more acceptable taste can be achieved by combining the two.
2. Add some fruit
Do you like sangria? There's no better way to sweeten the bitterness of wine than by mixing in some fruits and berries. The addition of apples, strawberries, and the like, will infuse flavour.
3. Chill it
The popular rule with temperatures is that white wine is served chilled and red wine is served cool. As temperatures drop, flavours become muted. So bad wine, of all colours and varieties, should be served cold, very cold.
(p.s. Hold up on those ice cubes. If you want to keep your glass ice-cold, try whiskey stones).
4. Aerate your wine
Swish the wine around in the glass a few times. This is a quick trick to weaken the acidity by aerating the wine. Also let it sit for a while before serving, to leave the air work on it.
5. Make it a spritzer
Adding something fizzy and bubbly can tone down tart and unpleasant flavours.
6. Mull it
You have probably enjoyed the comforting warmth of hot wine on a chilly day. But even when it's not wintertime, cranking up the temperature of a red wine with some spices and sugar will reverse the low-grade taste.
7. If it's red, drink it with mushrooms.
I can’t really explain this one but, umami-rich mushrooms tend to make average reds taste better. If your wine’s specific problem is a sandpapery mouthfeel, add red meat: fat and protein both neutralize rough tannins.
8. If it's sweet, drink it with something spicy.
Sadly, forceful cuisines like Thai and Indian tend to obliterate the delicious nuances of great wines. Happily, they’ll also obliterate the unpleasant nuances of bad wines.
9. If it's oaky, drink it while you're grilling.
Smoky foods work well with smoky tasting wines, and a charcoal-grilled burger is the best kind of distraction for your palate.
10. Add some lemon
The solution to the unpleasantness of many cheap wines is balancing the acidity. A squeeze of lemon is the quickest and easiest way to brighten flabby wine. Allow your glass to sit for a minute to make sure the lemon is well mixed in.
Can you drink spoiled wine?
Although a person can drink a small amount of spoiled wine without fearing the consequences, they should avoid drinking large amounts of it. Typically, wine spoilage occurs due to oxidation, meaning that the wine may turn to vinegar. Although it may taste unpleasant, it is unlikely to cause harm
Remember: Wine is food.
Using basic scientific methods to doctor wine up is like adding seasoning to food. Some wines are like eating at upscale restaurants, but the stuff we often grab quickly on the way home is more like fast food: it needs some ketchup.
Adding a squeeze of lemon to cheap, watery wine should be no more taboo than adding lime to cheap, watery beer. What is a wine punch, like sangria, if not cheap wine sweetened with spirits, soured with citrus, and aerated in pitchers and bowls?
If there is a definite fault in the wine, (i.e. if it’s corked), none of the above tips to rehabilitate the wine will work. It’s best to return it to where you bought it. Any decent retailer will replace the bottle for you.
My final thoughts on this subject is to avoid bad wine in the first place. Spend at least say €12/15 on your bottle and you shouldn’t have to try any of the above methods.
Talk soon – James O’Connor