Wine faults - "Brett"
Did I ever meet a wine I didn't like? You bet! Like just about all of us, I'll occasionally encounter one that's actively unpleasant; and a little more frequently I'll pull the cork from a bottle that's just plain boring, not so much flawed as simply devoid of interest.
So why don't I usually talk about bad wine? A reader asked the other day, kindly but candidly: "It seems to me that all your reviews are either slightly positive to positive. ... My opinion is that your readership would also benefit from some reviews of what wines we might not like and why."
"I'm not one of those see-no-evil critics who never met a wine he didn't like. I've tasted some horrible stuff over the years, and on occasion I'm not loath to say so," I told my friendly inquisitor. "Over the years, though, I've found that my feedback is strongly - perhaps in the range of hundreds to one - in favor of my telling about wines I think people will enjoy rather than reporting negatively on wines that I didn't like.
"Further, since I don't usually line up large numbers of wines for tasting on an assembly-line basis but simply report on the wines that I enjoy at home or when dining out, I try to select wines that I expect to like. Over the years I've become pretty good at avoiding the horrifying stuff in the first place.
"In fact, with so many voices already out there rating wine by the numbers, I'd rather be known as a teacher than a guru, providing fellow wine enthusiasts with the tools you need to make your own informed decisions about the grapes and regions that you like, the producers and importers who you trust, and the principles to follow in venturing into new and unknown wine territories. That, it seems to me, is better for us both than spending much of our time warning you away from specific nasties."
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. If you have a comment or want to offer me more free advice, feel free to drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For today, then, let's take advantage of a recently tasted wine to pay a return visit to a specific fault that turns up fairly often.
Brettanomyces, pronounced "breh-TAN-uh-MY-sees" and often shortened to "brett," is a wild yeast that occasionally gets into wine, where it can produce earthy, organic aromas that range from sweaty horses and their old leather saddles to barnyardy or outright manure-like scents, often accompanied by a sour, twangy acidity on the palate. It's no surprise that many experts - particularly those who favor the antiseptic cleanliness of modern industrial wine production - consider it a fatal flaw. (Particularly in Europe, wine experts will sometimes use the alternate term "dekkera," pronounced "DECK-er-ah," which technically refers to the same organism in a different form but is often used as a synonym.)
Here's a wine from a usually reliable producer that provided a textbook example of brett affliction. The wine was further, if coincidentally, flawed by early signs of oxidation - another data point in the growing body of evidence that synthetic corks should not be used in wines to be kept longer than a year or two in the bottle.
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Eric Texier 2001 Côtes du Rhône Brézème ($14)
Dark garnet, black at the center; a rim of tiny bubbles lines the glass, a hint that something odd may be going on in the bottle. Warm, almost pruney aromas suggest incipient oxidation - perhaps hastened by the synthetic cork - but the dominant aroma here is a distinctly horsey, leathery character that suggests the presence of brettanomyces, a supposition underscored by a sharp, acidic twang that proceeds to a tongue-curling sourness in the finish. As unpleasant as all this may sound, it's not a fatal flaw in a rustic country wine, although tolerance for these "old world" aromas and flavors will vary considerably among individuals. One thing is certain, this one offers a textbook demonstration of the effect of brett in wine. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio, and other regional importers. (July 27, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Grilled red meat or burgers would make a natural match; a simple cheese omelet worked well as a meatless alternative.
VALUE: Assuming the brett isn't an issue for you, then the range of $10 to the middle teens seems a fair price point for a complex, artisanal wine. If you can't stand brett, then you won't want this wine at any price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Oxidizing aromas suggest that it's at or slightly past its peak. Notice, however, that Texier's almost identically labeled "vieilles vignes" (old vines) bottling will hold up longer, and I have not seen references to brett in tasting reports.
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Friday, July 29, 2005