Last night after work, I opened a bottle of wine that I had purchased about a week ago at my local liquor store. It had been marked down from $24 to $14 and was from a co-op that I know is into natural wine-making. I had some trepidation. One doesn’t just mark a wine down by ten bucks if all is well in the bottle. Nonetheless, I’m always game so I picked it up.

When I opened the bottle and poured a small taste into my glass I noticed some bright acidity and a bit of barnyard. I was expecting the brightness because it was a Grenache but the barnyard was a bit of a red flag. On tasting, the wine had a hint of CO2 and an acetic edge that was just this side of unpleasant. It was clear to me then that the wine was hosting an unwelcome guest.  Brettanomyces. :{

Now, I’m not one of those people who finds fault in wine just for the fun of it and I have drunk my share of ‘Brett’ infected wines and enjoyed them. Brett is a classic fault very often found in your friend’s bottles of homemade wine. It’s one of several wild yeasts that can be found on grapes and can hide inside barrels. It’s also the very component that gives home-made wine its big acidity and an almost nutty thinness on the mid-palate.

If you’re interested in reading more about Brettanomyces, there’s a very good article here…

Suffice it to say though, that if you are one of the many people who love the big barnyardy wines that smell of wet saddle, or smoke, spice and band-aids you probably shouldn’t read it.

My boys and a friend were drinking the bottle and it occurred to me that it was a great moment for education so I pointed it out to them. All three of them understood the fault right away but they also all three expressed a liking of the wild acidity and nutty sort of aftertaste. My boys were raised on some pretty good home-made brew on their dad’s side so they’re not the kind of wine snobs to turn down a glass of wine offered by a kind host ,,,and neither am I.

I am well and truly able to sniff out the dirtiest, barnyardiest wine and then proceed to enjoy it fully. I can tell you too from experience that there are a lot of us out there who like the dirty stuff. Equally there are wine makers the world over who have developed a real “cellar palate” and are truly unable to enjoy any wine with any kind of fault. This includes, sadly our dirty, barnyard wines, really petrol nosed Rieslings and yes, your friend’s home-made wine.

But fear not! You are allowed to like whatever you like and you can’t be wrong about that! Wine, like most pleasures in the world, is there for you to explore and enjoy or discard and move on to the next thing. But be forewarned. With the current trend towards natural and organic wines, Brett will be lurking in the shadows just waiting for you to come over to the dark side.

One thought on “Oh Brett…

  1. I don’t like calling Brett a fault because I don’t always think this is the case: in small doses it can make wine have interesting secondary aromas, but of course there’s always a line between interesting and unpleasantly stinky. When it comes to Pinot, Brett is usually a bad thing, but I recall reading something about Rhone wines which suggested that a touch of Brett is actually a part of the terroir, not a detraction from it. I say if you enjoy the wine, it can’t be faulty!


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