rettanomyces-Brettanomyces bruxellensis (the anamorph of Dekkera bruxellensis) is a yeast native to Senne valley in Belgium and it is used to make lovely lambic brews. In wine, however, it can spell disaster!
I could write for hours on Brett, but I would bore you to be sure. Suffice to say, Brett is the stuff of winemaker nightmares, the bane of our existence, the haunt of our dreams for a perfect vintage. This wee fungi lurks in barrels, drains and deep in wine, requiring little to no oxygen and nutrients. it can endure very cold temperatures, and resist sulphur levels intended to level all bio-activity in wine. Worse yet, it can reproduce both sexually and asexually, the spore form called Dekkara floats around in the air waiting to land in a welcoming wine medium.
I despise this critter…
But what does this mean to you, the consumer? Well, it can mean the difference between cellaring a wine and drinking it soon, or it can help determine a wine purchase. Brett is expressed on the nose in several forms; barnyard, bandaid, wet dog, horsey, wet earth, bacon, sweat, cloves, smoke, cheese and rancid. While some of these attributes may be nice, most are not, and many attribute to a masking of other more desirable volatile aromas. Brett also can induce a rather nasty retro-nasal effect, leaving an ugly finish on the palate. So why buy a wine with Bretty characteristics? Complexity, you might reply. Certainly, Brett can add some interesting aromas to wine, but be forewarned! Complexity today could easily be tomorrow’s spoiled wine. Wine with a tiny viable Brett population in bottle may take months and even years to express spoilage volatile aromas. The end result could mean undrinkable wine. And your dollars wasted!
My opinion and advice is to avoid purchasing bretty wine. Wine can offer complexity in blending and winemaking techniques without threatening spoilage and wasted money.
If you don’t know how to recognize brett, take a class on wine flaws. I offer a series of classes this March and April, and one is based entirely on wine flaws. You can also purchase wine flaw kits (link) that can help you identify aromas that can indicate spoilage.