Does Brettanomyces help or hurt fine wine? (cultural analysis at post 25)

Can the presence of brett be beneficial to wine? (poll)

  • Brett, at any detectable level, is a flaw in wine
  • A small, non-dominant, amount of brett can improve a wine
  • Wine has always had brett, and its presence can reflect terroir

0 voters

Some winemakers, critics, and drinkers believe that Brettanomyces is a flaw and should be minimized or eliminated in wine, because they find its aroma offensive (cow pats, farmyard, tractor-filled hay-barn, stable or sweaty saddle) and it can mask other aromas. Some believe it is traditional, beneficial, or even representative of the wine’s terroir. Others believe in small doses it can add a positiive complexity to wine.

Do you think that the presence of Brettanomyces can improve a fine wine?

Brett or any other kind of bacteria in a wine is a deal breaker for me. I find that most often times it’s masking flavors that I would otherwise enjoy more than straight stink.

Poll options leave out several common opinions on the issue, such as “Doesn’t necessarily improve the wine or reflect terroir but isn’t a problem either.”

I like Brett as a complexing agent.

But there’s more to it. As far as brewers are concerned, there are several different strains they use. With wine, all Brett is lumped into the same category. I’d like to see some differentiation by strain and/or fermentation conditions with regards to wine. Maybe there are certain strains and conditions that yield “good Brett” and some that yield “bad Brett.”

Personally I have little love for wines that taste one-dimensionally of band-aids and antiseptic with lambic-like acidity. These are one-dimensional, just like your standard fruit bomb or oak monster. This sort of wine is dominated by a stylization. But there are definitely wines that develop a different character with Brett. These I like. My general rule is: smells like hospital, bad, smells like the country, good.

Are we talking about Brett Favre?

The real answer is “it depends”. I like a touch of brett in some wines- I think it adds an extra complexity- others are completely brett intolerant. Too much brett overwhelms.

The 1985 Guigal Brune et Blonde Cote Rotie we had last week was full of brett.

This is how I feel more often, though I selected the middle choice because there are wines I’ve had where some noticeable byproducts of brettanomyces did seem pleasant to me.

Ian, I’m curious, does this mean you don’t like wines like Beaucastel and Musar at all? I guess this is my question to anyone who thinks brett is always bad. I understand that some people don’t love the flavor profile and that this is an extreme example, but I’d be surprised to hear many wine geeks say they think 1995 Musar is not a high quality wine (I understand that a lot of winemaking student and competition judges might say that, but I’m talking more about people who don’t evaluate wines looking first for faults, but wine lovers who look first for pleasure – either way, if people here have had the wine and do think it’s undrinkable or grotesquely flawed I’d be interested to see them speak up). For a less extreme example, what about so many Rhone wines with a bit of brett? Heck, I’ve had CA syrah that tasted squeaky clean to me and been told that there was a little brett in it, which some people could detect. What about an example like that?

Also, since I’ve taken that stance, maybe I should point out what I hope is obvious: brett does ruin many wines. I hate the vast majority of reds from South Africa that I’ve had because of it (sorry to pick on one country – of course it’s not every red wine I’ve had from there – but I have had the highest proportion of wines from there versus any other country that have, to my taste, been ruined by brett).

Brettanomyces is yeast, not bacteria.

Best short piece I’ve read on ‘Brettanomyces Character in Wine’: Wine Education Topic: Brettanomyces Character in Wine" onclick=";return false;" onclick=";return false;

I love Beaucastel and Musar, but don’t think that those wines always have Brett in tow. I have had plenty of clean examples of both.

Yes, sorry, I was typing and thinking too quickly.

I mention this b/c one of my staff blind tasted me on something and said “what do you think?”, and I think it was stricken with a large case of VA. Again, another flaw that some folks don’t mind, but I think is very off putting.

Fair enough as I’m sure you’ve tasted more examples of each than I have. But what about my specific example of '95 Musar Rouge, which I’ve had a few times and always detected brett byproducts (it’s also my favorite Musar that I’ve had and I know the winemaker says it’s one of the best vintages they’ve had for red wine).

Agreed. Plus tolerances to Brett vary among tasters.

A couple of thoughts/questions (and I welcome points from those with greater expertise):

  1. I like clean, fresh flavors and aromas in my wines and do not like “dirty” smells – to me, brett is dirty and stinky, not a source of complexity (in the spirit of full disclosure)

  2. If brett in small doses enhances wine, why don’t winemakers deliberately add it to otherwise brett-free wines to add complexity? To my uneducated eye, it appears to be somewhat of a after-the-fact rationalization… why call a wine flawed when I can call it “complex?”


Steve - I think some of the problems are that people confuse other flavors and aroma as Brett and vice-versa. I recently had a Thierry Puzelat Touraine Gamay that I’m certain some would have claimed Bretty. As to why winemakers choose not to add Brett, in reality, some chose to allow Brett by their cleanliness standards.

The biggest problem with brett is its instability. It’s a yeast – given the right nutrients, and a high enough temperature (59 to 72F are optimum for brett to grow), it will grow and take over a wine. The '89 Beaucastel was great when young, with just a trace of brett. However, many of the bottles that came to the US got warm on their trip over here and that got the brett going. Ten years later the wine was a ghost of what it had been, even when stored at cold temperatures.

I can definitely live with a little brett, but I can’t count on it staying little.

Larry answered in the last post–Brett is not something that’s easy to control. It’s highly attenuative–it eats sugars and nutrients other yeast won’t touch–and depends upon ambient temperature. I’m sure there are producers who might take a stinky barrel, sterile filter it, then blend it in for complexity. But most probably see this as risky. Any small amount of Brett can bloom into a Brett bomb

There’s a bit of rationalization that happens as well, absolutely. Folks drink a well-known wine, and that’s the way it’s supposed to taste they say. But personally I drink less overpriced wines and find Brett can be good, or can be bad. If it dominates everything else, it’s bad. If it is complementary, it’s good. And that’s entirely specific to my sensory apparati to boot!

Brett in beer sure is good! But to the above points, brewers who use brett do so in a separate room or even building, because it is nearly impossible to control or get out of the equipment.

It the very high VA that I remember in that one and many other Musars.

I make my own vinegar and yet Musar has too much VA for me!