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Wine smells vinegary or of nail polish remover, and/or has formed a white film

When a wine smells vinegary, the root cause is acetic spoilage – a condition where wine has been overly exposed to air allowing harmful acetic acid bacteria, known as Acetobacter aceti (A. aceti), or more commonly known as Acetobacter, to feed on alcohol in the presence of air to produce acetic acid and VA.

Possible Causes

Corrective Actions, if any

Wine has been exposed to air causing an interaction with Acetobacter spoilage organisms and/or wine has not been sufficiently sulfited.

  • For mild cases, drink wine if tolerable
  • For more serious cases, dump the wine

Depending on the extent of the problem, acetic spoilage will first manifest itself as a vinegary smell and sour taste and then as an off-putting aroma of nail polish remover at higher concentrations. In the worst case, a white film forms on the wine’s surface – a condition referred to as mycoderma.

These symptoms are usually the result of poor or defective winemaking equipment, such as poor seal from bungs or dry fermentation locks, excessive manipulation of wine during transfers or other cellar operations, a pH that is too high or TA that is too low, or simply, careless winemaking, such as a poor topping regimen. The risks of these symptoms developing are always greater if wine is not adequately protected with the recommended minimum amount of sulfite. MLF will also increase the amount of acetic acid by transforming any citric acid present. For this reason, wines to be malolactic-fermented should have a low citric acid component.

Wine affected by advanced acetic spoilage cannot be cured and is best destined to the sewer. If it is slightly affected, there is still a chance to treat the wine and minimize the symptoms. Filter the wine through double cheesecloth to remove any white film that may have formed on the surface, then sulfite to the maximum level below the detectable threshold of 2.0 mg/L of molecular SO2, and bottle immediately. Drink the wine as soon as possible.

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