Friday, October 4, 2013

Wine Geek 101 - What's Brett?

Remember George Brett? He's the first ballot Hall of Fame third baseman for the Kansas City Royals who almost hit .400 in 1980. Well, he was great but unfortunately this blog post is not about him.

It's about brettanomyces, don't worry about pronouncing it, just say "brett". Brett is a type of yeast occasionally found on grapes and then in a finished wine. We typically will see brett in organic, biodynamic, and the so-called "natural wines". That's because all the bacteria hasn't been killed off by large doses of sulfur and filtration. When brett is present in a wine it gives a certain flavor which can be described as earthy "barnyard". For me one of the giveaways is also a kind of telltale chestnut or hazelnut lingering in the finish.

The real issue with brett is that it can occur in varying degrees in a wine. For me personally, a little bit of brett can enhance earthiness in a wine, add a complex savory note, and give a nice sense of character. I find that preferable to the mass produced, sanitized wines made with laboratory yeasts, filtered, flavored with oak chips, and manipulated with additives to conform to a certain "recipe" for a wine. That being said, if there's too much brett then the wine has gone too far for me in a stinky, feral way. I also find that wines with too much brett don't drink well over a period of a few days, they actually get "brettier", if that's a word. Another argument is that overly "bretted" wines obscure their terroir instead of highlighting it. Nuances from the vineyard site can be overshadowed by the brett flavor.  If you want to have that uber-geek discussion with me then you'll have to mention it in person sometime when your shopping.

So is brett a defect? I think yes, albeit sometimes a good one, and I'm sure you can find differing opinions about this from folks in the wine business. As always, every wine is different and if you have any questions about a specific wine just ask. As a sidenote, brett is also encountered in beer brewing. If you'd like to see more on that click here. Where do you fall in on the brett scale? Try some new wines and find out!


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