Ok. I know I’m not totally alone in thinking that Brett is a flaw. Or at least I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
Helloooooooooo? Is anyone out there….???
The minor bought of vinous paranoia has to do with what seems like my inclusion in rarefied company, and I mean that in the “two percent of patients have a severe allergic reaction” sense or rarefied, and not in the “Emmy-award-winning drama for the seventh consecutive year” sense. You see, sometimes, it feels like I’m part of a group, rather tiny in number, that thinks a certain range of smells – barnyard, band-aid, and (putting it in the most polite context I can muster) “dirty diaper” – aren’t indicative of terroir, or the almost-as-ubiquitous “character.”
Call it the anti-brett clan, maybe?
It’s the group that classifies the presence of brettanomyces (a yeast that imparts aromas of band-aid, barnyard, and sometimes meaty funk to wines) as… well, as a flaw. No different than the unpleasant, musty odor cork taint, or the rotten-egg stench of sulfer.
Especially since, with increasing frequency, I seem to disagree with both the famous and not-so-famous wine critics and reviewers on how wines should be rated (in terms of recommending them to others) when those wine (to me, at least) very clearly display classic (nasty!) characteristics of brett.
I know that wine appreciation is subjective, and one person’s swill is another person’s prestige cuvee, but do people really enjoy the smell of band-aids and barnyard in their wines? I sure as hell don’t – and while I enjoy a touch of funk in some of my wines (the kind that smells like Slim Jims, or smoked meat), my prevailing thought for some time has been that brett is actually a wine flaw – yes, even the interesting meaty funkiness that I happen to… well, not like exactly, but not hate, either.
I say this because brett yeasts cannot yet be controlled, and until such time as they can be controlled (so that winemakers can ‘dial-in’ the amount – and type, as there are many brett yeasts and they impart different ‘flavors’ of off-beat funk) then whether or not the wine has pleasant smoked meat characteristics or instead smells like one of my daughter’s diaper blow-outs is almost entirely dictated by chance.
The aspect that has me questioning my sanity in all of this is that other people seem to like those wines – lots of people… and in some cases, they seem to really like them.
I’m not (of course) saying my schnoz is better than Bobby’s or Stephen’s. But I am saying that they are giving (very high) scores to wines that, to me, are bretty.
Take the 2005 Vérité la Joie, which both Parker and Tanzer scored in the high 90s – ratings that would be squarely in my ‘A’ range, probably. My take on the wine:
Band-aid funk crashing an otherwise opulent black fruit party; Warning – for Brett-heads only!
Don’t get me wrong, the la Joie 2005 has a lot going for it. Massive, opulent, sexy black fruits for starters. A mouthfeel that is so killer, it could probably be used as a weapon that, while maybe not killing lesser wines, could certainly humiliate them to tears. But the bretty aromas are potent to the point of distraction, and for a wine that runs $150 I don’t want that kind of distraction when I’m drinking it. And if those aromas are indeed due to brett (I haven’t taken any samples to the NCIS crab lab lately for analysis, so I can’t say with 100% certainty that they do have brett), then that stank ain’t going anywhere, folks.
As the wine ages, it will become more perceptibly bretty, not less, as the primary fruits subside and the secondary aromas become more prevalent. In my experience (and that of others in my wine-geek-o-sphere) Bretty aromas stick around, roughly at the same intensity, as a wine ages – intense fruitiness may hide it a bit while the wine is young, but fruit can’t hide bretty smells forever. If you, like me, aren’t a brett fan, then wines like that will get worse with age, not better – and a young wine that seemed to have a bit of complexity added with the presence of Brett might develop into a stink bomb of an older wine later.
I seem to disagree with the majority when it comes to possibly-bretty wines that are more reasonably priced and likely meant for earlier consumption. Take me experience recently with the 2007 Sartori Regolo – another wine where the beguiling fruit (dried cherries, in this case) was getting buried in bretty funkiness (in this case, “smells of the barnyard,” to put it kindly). It’s a shame – the wine (like the Vérité la Joie 2005) is well-made; it just kind of, well, stinks. But search the Internet for reviews of that wine and you get scores in the 80s and a good deal of recommendations.
Am I crazy to disagree with the collective Internet wine consciousness? Or with Parker or Tanzer?
I posted a variant of this question on twitter, and the responses made me a bit hopeful that I wasn’t entirely bonkers (at least, not yet, anyway). Thanks to all of you who took the time to answer my twitter-posed inquiry – here are a few of the responses:
As you can read above, not everyone agreed with me, but several told me that I wasn’t crazy. Yet.
If there’s a lesson here, and I’m not sure if there is, it might be yet another cautionary tale of the dangers of blindly trusting the recommendation of any one wine critic – because their tastes may differ widely from yours, and you might end up with a wine that doesn’t appeal to you unless you’re fond of standing in vats of berry jam with a band-aid on your nose, while holding a bag of fertilizer in one hand and a dirty diaper in the other. Not that I am juding you if you are fond of that. Ok, maybe I am judging you a little bit.
Oh – and if you’re a brett-head, chances are pretty good that you’re not going to find a high degree of alignment with my palate and my wine recommendations, so consider yourself duly warned!