How can you tell if a white wine is off?

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Sight, smell, taste.

Ignoring the beautiful background in this photo (the island of Ko Pha Ngan from a hillside villa in Ko Samui, Thailand where we were recently; see our notes about visiting Thai wineries here), what is visibly suspect about the wine? That’s right, the colour. White wines range in colour from almost see-through to dark straw and, with notable exceptions (primarily aged wines and sweet wines), the darker the colour the more likely the wine is to be oxidized.

Next smell – quite often it smells a bit like a dry sherry, other times a bit like vinegar; all rather unpleasant.

And then taste. Quite often it doesn’t taste too bad, and even better with food. Sometimes you wonder if that is the style of the wine maker. Other times it’s plain awful.

Then there are those wines which pass all the above tests but are still not worth drinking. The most obvious are many wines-by-the-glass that just taste tired or flat – oxidation has destroyed the acidity in the wine that makes it taste fresh. This is why we prefer to drink half bottles of white wine if we don’t want a full bottle; we don’t want to finish off the tired remains later. Another one for us only comes with Chardonnay – when we swallow we get a burning sensation under the breast bone; have no idea why, but the bottle always goes back!

We think that the killer question is “Would you love to finish off a bottle of this?” If not, it’s probably off

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