should we fret about brett?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I don’t like brett. There, I’ve said it. No ifs, ands, or (horse) butts about it. I don’t like brett. For me, there isn’t good brett. It’s not, God forbid, “terroir.” It’s not character or nuance or anything but stinky, leathery, barnyard stench that obliterates what I like best in a wine, which is fruit.

So the question I put to you today is, is it fair to call it a flaw, as much a flaw as say, TCA? If a brett-laden bottle of wine is served to you in a restaurant, is it fair to send it back? If a bretty bottle is sent in for scoring and review, is it right for a reviewer to criticize it as flawed?

I think the answer to both questions is definitely yes. Brett destroys fruit. It overtakes nuance. It can bloom in the bottle, so even if you have just a little, it can always get worse over time.It is not something that is intentionally introduced,like a designer yeast. It isn't something that a winemaker can control, or even choose. It blooms,like a weed.

I can’t tell you how many pricey, fancy wines I’ve had (admittedly,mostly French) with brett as a main “feature.” It’s a sham! Brett is not desirable. It does not enhance wine. It’s a flaw, plain and simple.

Or do you disagree?

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

“Vitivinicultural “terroir” is a concept which refers to an area in which collective knowledge of the interactions between the identifiable physical and biological environment AND APPLIED VITIVINICULTURAL PRACTICES develops, providing distinctive characteristics for the products originating from this area ” (Resolution OIV/Viti 333/2010).

This definition, adopted by the OIV in 2010, would seem to imply that if the accepted vinification practices of a region promoted, allowed, or accepted the presence of brettanomyces into the wines of that region, then the flavor profiles associated with brettanomyces could indeed be considered part of the region's "terroir"...

Not saying that happens, just advocating for the devil...

Puteljen! said...

Disagree! I would not call brett a flaw althoug when it seriously unblanaces the wine it's not very nice, but then I dont't like wines heavy with overcooked fruit either, but I don't call them flawed. It comes down to the definition of flaw I guess. I my book a proper flaw is something thar arises from improper handling/storage/closure of the bottles after or during bottling and therefore varies a lot between bottles. I know that not everybody agrees to this definition, but for me an unatractive wine is simply bad wine, not flawed, if the character is representative for the wine (ie. not a result of bottle variation). I would never liken brett to TCA, wich is a real FLAW by any defenition. I have had wines heavy with brett that were great! (Beaucastel and La Nerthe comes to mind) And also, I'm not sure that fruit is what I like best in wine. Sure, you need to have it, but when fruit is all there is, I usually find the wine one-dimensional and boring. For me, complexity, balance and elegance is the thing(s) to look for, and this I find in wines that have lots of fruit, almost no fruit, brett, no brett, high acid, low acid, residual sugar etc. The problem is it's so hard to nail down exactly what balance, complexity and elegance is. Almost as hard as terroir.

I noticed that people in north america are usually more negative to brett than europeans. You tend to emphasise fruit a lot more. The dividing line between brett and no brett seems to sit squarely in the middle of the atlantic. In the end, the precense or abcense of brett or other characteristics doesn't matter much to me, as long as I enjoy the wine.

Jeff Lewis said...

After Mandela came to power in the 90s, my wife and I visited South Africa (her birthplace) to see family. We ended our trip in the Cape and decided to check out some wineries (the exchange rate was very favorable).

We bought a book on South African wines by some local expert(?) recommended by several wine shops in Cape Town at the time and spent a day visiting a few of the top rated/recommended places in Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek.

The first red we tasted, our reaction to each other: "hmmm, strong smell of wet-shaggy-dog". The same for the rest of the reds they poured. Next place we went: "wow, overpowering funky-burnt-bacon". Most of the reds we had that day were very brett dominated.

Going with the regional theme of earlier comments ... our guess was that this was a South African thing at the time in terms of style (or at least for the book's author in terms of ratings preference and wine shops' recommendations).

We don't find this (heavy-brett) to be the case today, at least for those imported South African reds we've tasted here in the States.

For the rest of that trip, we stuck with white wine and Castle beer.

Anonymous said...

Brett by-products when over sensory threshold are most definitely a flaw. It can completely mask terroir, making wines from different countries/regions (even different varieties!) smell and taste more similar than different. Those who claim Brett is part of terroir don't realize that you don't find Brett in any real numbers in vineyards. It's found in and on unsanitary equipment in wineries, especially older barrels and wooden tanks/foudres. If you want to include a winery's microbes as part of the terroir, then so be it. But if two wineries are given some wonderful fruit from the same vineyard and all other things being equal, one winery produces a wine with noticeable 4-EP/4-EG and the other does not, which has produced a wine more representative of the terroir? The answer should be pretty obvious.

As for ordering wine in restaurants, if I'm asking for a somm's help, I tell them upfront that I do not want a wine with Brett. If they serve one to me, yes, I will send it back. Otherwise, if I'm choosing the wine, I make damn sure I know it's Brett-free.

PaulG said...

Good comments, but I am squarely on the side of Anon #2. Couldn't have said it any better myself.

Chris Wallace said...

I am not a brett fan, so my position is that it is a flaw. However, I am not stridently anti-brett. The only times I have encountered brett it has been in relatively small doses, so I have not got too worked up about it. Some say it adds complexity to a wine. I would disagree. If you can identify it as brett, then I say it is a flaw. If it is minor enough that you may find the wine wierd smelling or tasting, but cannot specifically idientify it as brett, then I would not go so far as to say it is flawed. But if I can tell a wine has brett specifically, then I would ask for another bottle.

Anonymous said...

Part of the terroir ? OMG ! I'll say and it came up the gutter into the winery. The Chinese think if a wine doesn't taste like those with brett it isn't worth anything, they see big dollars being spent for collectable french wines so obviously they think that brett is the bomb. I tell them its a flaw and they act like I'm jealous of them because I don't pay 400$ a bottle. Fools.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Puteljen! Wines that are nothing but fruit (and oak) are so BORING, and that seems to be at least 90% of New World wines. Folks that love those wines are always tasting "flaws" - as if anything that gets in the way of their beloved fruitiness must be a bad thing. - e.g. the complexity of a Cayuse derided by the Wine Peeps. The emphasis on sterility and the UC Davis wine-making "formula" has resulted in in a plethora of soul-less one-dimensional wines. I'll take a funky, "flawed" wine from a fungus-covered French cellar over a formula wine made in an antiseptic factory any day.

PaulG said...

That's well and good Anon but where does that leave me? I embrace the fruit but rave about Cayuse. Your views don't seem to have room for that. Cayuse wines are immensely complex but never a hint of Brett in them.

Francly Speaking said...

I just had a conversation with a couple of restaurant and retail wine-buyers who openly discussed that if the wine is from the old-world a little brett is ok and often expected [therefore, not a flaw] however; they emphatically stated that if a new world wine displayed the slightest hint of brett they would consider that wine flawed. We have buyers constantly asking about 'non - intervention','natural wine-making' etc... To me me you can't have it both ways! My wine-making philosophy follows that of my Grandmothers kitchen philosophy - she would say,'My kitchen is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy!'

Anonymous said...

Brett is a flaw and I agree with anyone especially you PG that it should be avoided and cleaned up before bottling. There I've said it. Cheers to all no brett wines,
TMcD

tercero wines said...

The big problem with brett is that you can't have 'just a little bit' unless the wine is sterile filtered with 'just a little bit' in it. Brett is a living organism in wine and is very difficult to completely kill off without using some method to do so.

I am not in favor of creating sterile, non-descript wines whatsoever, but it truly irks me when I have a bottle of specific wine that I like and then have the same bottle, perhaps stored a little differently or shipped across the country and exposed to a bit of heat, and it's full of brett.

I am not anti-brett, but when a wine smells and tastes like horse crap, to me, there's really no enjoyment.

Here's the question I pose to other winemakers - if you bottle a wine unfined and unfiltered and are happy with the results, but then at some time that wine experiences a bloom of brett that 'takes over' the wine, are you willing to stand behind it and say that's what you intended to do? To me, that's the real issue . . .

Cheers!

SUAMW said...

It's a flaw. Like VA. or TBA. Or oxidation.

Anonymous said...

Bret sucks. It is the flaw of flaws. I'm with you 100% PG. What a shame for the flavor/aroma of good and tasty grapes to be ruined with a bacterial infection.

Wine is made from fruit, first and foremost its supposed to smell fruity. Maybe I'm weird like that. (I also like my cheese to smell "milky". Heavens no!)

I wouldn't drink a wine that smelled like poop-covered raspberries the same as I wouldn't actually eat poop-covered raspberries.

David Vergari said...

Just wondering, how many of you have tried to SELL a wine that's a Brett-bomb? Not much fun in that. Sure, some accounts may spring for it but in the main, the degree of difficulty increases. When you're making wine for a living, Brettanomyces is gonna crash the dinner party...just don't give it a chair at the table.

Anonymous said...

I agree...Brett is ALWAYS a flaw. Clean your winery and let the terrior express itself through a WELL MADE wine...All these comments about it being a natural part of the process is lazy winemaking.

PaulG said...

A couple more comments from me - first off, I fail to see how brett can be OK in an Old World wine and a flaw in a New World wine. Different rules apply because... why? France gets a pass? Another French paradox perhaps?

The restaurant dilemma is a thorny one. How many consumers can even identify brett, let alone have the presence of mind to pre-qualify their wine order as brett-free? I know I feel like a total geek if I get into that sort of conversation, unless I personally know the sommelier. I wish more somms read this blog; I'd love to hear how they handle this.

michael said...

A detail: conventional filtering and fining do not stop brett. so you can have a filtered and fined wine with brett. it is also possible to produce unfiltered, unfined wine with no brett and no real risk of brett, as long as there is no brett in your winery.

by the way, i make unfiltered, unfined, unsulfited, unracked wine w/o wood. not brett yet.

tercero wines said...

Michael,

Not sure what you mean by 'conventional' filtering. Sterile filters stop Brett - they do not remove what's already there but the kill the chance of future blooms. Yes, you can have a filtered wine with brett, but there won't be any living cells and therefore it won't get 'worse' . . .

You can also use Velcorin to kill the beast - I don't like it and it certainly not for me but more and more wineries are using this . . .

Cheers

Mark said...

Here's one way a som handled a brett issue from a wine by the glass Chinon. He had no idea what we were talking about. We explained it was a spoilage yeast and decribed the aromas/flavors that brett produced. We invited him to smell the wine. His last comment floored us. "Some of the producers on our list use native yeasts".

Jasonrgreen said...

I have to agree with Paul. There is nothing appealing about Brett, even in small amounts. Tonight I opened two Bordeauxs from the 2000 vintage. The first was so bretty it went down the drain. The second was not as bad, but the brett still overwelmed the fruit. Dissapointing night. Should have stuck to a more reliable WA wine.

Anonymous said...

To my taste, a small amount of brett can add complexity, but as the amount increases it can cover the other tastes I was hoping for.
I followed a Washington winery for a few years that had just a hint of brett in their cab. Fine. But successive vintages gradually increased in brett intensity until I finally gave up on the winery.
Of course, there are lots of small breweries that would love to get their hands on those brett-contaminated barrels ...

PaulG said...

Really? Why would small breweries want brett-infected barrels?

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