How to treat older wines
When wines get to be over a decade old, you sometimes need to treat them differently to wines that are younger. Here are a few of the common issues people have, and how to deal with them.
Corks are bits of tree bark that seal the wine bottle. As a natural product, no two corks are alike, so here are some of the issues you may find with corks, most of which won't make the wine taste any different.
Corks are sticking - This is a good thing (sort of!). It means that the cork is still springy and therefore holding a seal. Using a T-shape corkscrew or a butlers thief (see corkscrew guide below) will get the cork out. If you can't get it out, or if it rips apart, just shove it down into the bottle and decant the wine.
Corks are breaking - Usually, this will have no issue on the wine, it is just that the cork has broken. The wine is not 'corked' if the cork breaks (see flaws). Again, choosing the correct corkscrew will help this not happen. Please note that we will not exchange/refund bottles of wine where the only issue is that the cork is stuck or has broken, as we have no way of knowing how you have approached opening the bottle. Think of it this way, if you bought a car, went out on the road and damaged it by crashing into a lamp post, you wouldn't expect the car dealer to take the car back because you'd wrecked it. The same applies with wine. If the wine has gone bad (see flaws) then obviously, we will happily refund or exchange it for you.
Cork is mouldy - The cork being mouldy on the top isn't a sign of the wine going bad. It might be an issue, but the point of a cork is to act as a seal, so if the outer part of that seal is mouldy, logic dictates that it won't necessarily be on the inside where the wine is.
Cork has a line of wine down it - Now this could be an issue. This means that there is a weak spot in the cork and wine has seeped through the cork. The wine may be oxidised, but might not. Taste the wine and if it is nice, great, if it is vinegary then it is bust.
The cork is very very wet all the way through - Again, this could be an issue, with the wine being oxidised. A vinegary flavour will indicate if the wine is bad or not.
Flaws that are and flaws that aren't
Firstly, remember it is incredibly unlikely that any flaw with a wine will make you ill. It may taste awful, but unlike most consumables, wine is usually perfectly safe to drink once it has gone off. You'd just be a bit of a nutter if you chose to do so! Here are the main flaws that can happen to wine, and some that aren't flaws as well.
Smells like wet dogs or cardboard - This is when a wine is corked, where the wine has reacted with the cork and gone off. It is beyond salvation and bring it back for a refund or swap.
Smells vinegary - This is oxidisation, caused by the wine being exposed to oxygen for too long. If you leave a bottle open for too long, this will happen, but in a freshly opened bottle it shouldn't be an issue. If it is, then bring it back for an exchange or refund.
Smells eggy - This is sulphur compounds in the wine. You can sometimes get rid by decanting the wine (even white or sparkling) and stirring with silver. If that doesn't work, bring it back.
Bubbles in a non bubbly wine - This is secondary fermentation. They can smell yeasty. Some residual sugar from the juice has remained and fermented once the wine has been bottled. This should just be brought back.
Heat damage - If you keep your wine next to a fire, cooker, washing machine, in a boiler room, in an attic, in an overly hot house or (and I have heard this once) in a greenhouse, you are going to wreck your wine and cook it. This is usually coupled with a burnt sugar like aroma. Now it won't happen in a day or week, but if you buy the wine and then return it months later after keeping it in poor conditions, we're going to possibly question how it has been kept if this is the flaw.
Bits in the wine - This is either tartrate crystals (if it looks like glass shards), or a dark sediment (dark, purply grit). These are totally fine, you just need to filter them out. The tartrate crystals come from high minerally wines (usually white) and the sediment is all the extraction from the wine being in content with grape skins solidifying and falling to the bottom of the bottle. Both are harmless and not a flaw. A lot of winemakers (usually with long beards) are now producing wines that aren't filtered or fined (natural wines), so you are finding more and more wines with dead yeast (lees), bits of grape skin, twigs, branches, hair from their beard.... (the last few were a joke) - this is apparently how they want their wines to be consumed, so don't panic.
What corkscrew you use is INCREDIBLY important for each bottle of wine. But regardless of what you use, if the cork breaks during the opening process, just shove the remains into the bottle (if you can't get them out) and then put the wine through a sieve to filter out any bits. The wine will not be ruined if the cork breaks.