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Today’s Wine Word: Brettanomyces




Sarah wrote in because she was having dinner with friends the other night and they all agreed that their red wine smelled like Band-Aids. They actually liked the wine pretty well, but once one of them remarked on the Band-Aid character, all of them noticed it and it was hard not to focus on it.

Pretty wierd, huh?

Actually, Band-Aid is a classic descriptor for wine that has a spoilage yeast present calledBrettanomyces. It’s often called “Brett” for short. Technically, it’s a defect, but it’s really quite common. And, whether or not it detracts from the wine is a question of how much the Brett has overtaken it and your own personal taste. It’s harmless, so if you like the character, don’t worry about it. 

Many professionals feel that in low concentration Brett adds to the wine’s complexity. There are some highly regarded wines that fairly consistently show what seems like Brett character. Since Brett might be confused with something else like terroir (a sense of place that may or may not smell like earth or minerals) or varietal character (the meaty, animal character of Mourvèdre can be confused with Brett) only analysis will tell the tale.

In addition to Band-Aid character, depending upon the wine, you might notice earthy, barnyard or horse stable character. Some describe it as mousy, sweaty saddle or cheesy – YUM 😉 It makes a young red smell and taste older than it is and as it progresses it dries out the fruit. The flavors become somewhat metallic.

As far as we know, Brett arrives with the grape skins, just like the good wine yeasts and, unfortunately, over time it can become part of the winery. The porous wood in the barrels makes them especially vulnerable.

If you ever open a bottle that is so Bretty that you just can’t enjoy it, take it back!

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