Wine: Cloudy, with a hint of arachnid

Bottling is a stringent process but, once in a rare while, misfortune can occur, writes Jo Burzynska.

Arriba Tempranillo, Spain 2012, Greenhough Hope Vineyard Nelson Chardonnay 2012 and Thistle Ridge Waipara Pinot Noir 2013. Pictures / Babiche Martens and Greg Bowker.

At a wine tasting the other week, one participant got more than they bargained for when a plump garden spider popped out of the neck of the bottle from which their wine was being poured. Many things can be found in a bottle of wine, but an arachnid should not be one of them.

On closer inspection the taster's eight-legged bonus had spun a silvery web at the bottom of the offending bottle, where he must have set up home before his vinous demise.

When I contacted the maker of the wine, he was mortified, as the bottles he was using were meant to be sterile on delivery. The winery is now asking hard questions of that particular supplier.

Although a creature (or indeed object) of any kind is an obvious intruder in one's wines, other things can crop up. Many are completely harmless, but others are signs that something might be up with the wine.

If you spot bubbles in a wine that you're not expecting to be sparkling, it merits further investigation.

If it's a young white wine, sometimes winemakers introduce a slight spritz of CO² to keep the wine fresh. Give it a sniff and if it smells, then tastes, fresh, all is well. However, if it's giving off an unpleasant or yeasty whiff, take it back to where you bought it as it's likely had an unintentional second fermentation in the bottle, and that's just not on.

Cloudiness is something else that can set alarm bells ringing, especially in white wines, which are usually made clear. But again, it's not always bad news. Many premium reds are purposely not fined or filtered to ensure good flavours are not also removed in the process, meaning these are often not crystal clear.

Again, if the wine smells and tastes pleasant, it should be fine. If it doesn't, the wine may well be suffering from bacterial spoilage or protein haze, both of which are not dangerous to health, but still an unacceptable fault.

Sediment is another thing you might spy in your glass of red, or possibly get a mouthful of, if you're unlucky. This is a totally natural by-product of the ageing process and is often the reason older wines are decanted - a process by which the sediment is left to fall to the bottom of the bottle before the wine is carefully poured into a decanting vessel from which it is served.

If you're the one who poured a grainy glass, learn from the experience and decant next time. If it's a friend, smile politely and discreetly dispel any remaining granules into your napkin. But if it's a restaurant then shame on them, they should have known better.
Many an innocent thing is mistaken for a fault. A bit of cork floating in your wine doesn't mean it's corked, more likely some of the end of the stopper has become dislodged by the corkscrew and fallen back into the bottle. Just fish it out and enjoy. The sign of a corked wine isn't solid, simply a musty odour.

Other foreign bodies that can create fear are crystals in a wine. Sometimes people take these to be shards of glass. Bottling line safety is extremely tight, so this is highly unlikely.

It's likely you'll have found a "wine diamond", or a tartrate crystal, to give it it's more prosaic name. These are formed by the crystallisation of a substance found naturally in grapes, and are usually precipitated out before bottling, but can sometimes make an appearance in a finished wine.

In this age of stringent health and safety measures, what we see in wines is most often not worth panicking over. And what can be found in wine is certainly not as strange as where some wines have turned up.

There's a story of a bottle of madeira being found in the belly of a shark caught by Frenchmen. Apparently, its gut had proved perfect cellaring conditions for the wine, which was reported to have tasted rather good. Sadly, I doubt the same could be said of our spider but, thankfully, no one unwittingly put that to the test.

Arriba Tempranillo, Spain 2012, $11.95-$14.95
Blended by New Zealand-based master of wine Stephen Bennett, this rich Spanish red, with its brooding dark berry fruit overlaid with notes of earth, roasted spice and a lick of structuring tannin, is an amazing buy. 
Widely available from stockists including New World, Liquorland, Liquor King and Glengarry.

Greenhough Hope Vineyard Nelson Chardonnay 2012, $32
A beautiful linear style of chardonnay in which rich toasty and nutty cashew notes are woven around a tight citrus core. 
From Point Wines, Caro's, Fine Wine Delivery Company and Glengarry.

Thistle Ridge Waipara Pinot Noir 2013, $21.99
With its ripe juicy plum fruit laced with cocoa and fragrant florals, there's an elegance rarely found in pinots at this price in this example from Greystone's second label. 
Available from Caro's, Kingsland Liquor Centre, Liquorland Howick, First Glass, Point Wines and Manly Liquor.

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