Calling the Brett Police on the Loire

Vinted on June 24, 2010 binned in commentary

Earlier this week, I shared a brief twitter exchange with Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth, kicked off by a tweet about a Chinon tasting that I noticed on James’ twitter feed:

“That was a tough flight – I’m more tolerant than most, but someone needs to send the brett police to Chinon…”

Essentially, James and I briefly discussed the fact that Chinon (in France’s Loire Valley) would be making some lovely Cabernet Franc-based wines, if only the fruit in those wines wasn’t buried under the smell of barnyard.

Yes, I’m talking about brett.  Again.

I can’t help it, I don’t want my wine to smell like poop, okay?  There, I admit it!

And with the samples coming my way lately from Chinon and nearby Bourgueil, poop is exactly what I’m finding.  Here are a couple of examples that found their way onto the wine “mini-review” feed:

  • 07 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon: With that much brett masking the red fruit, a more suitable name might be "Domaine Barnyard Baudry" $18 C- #
  • 06 Domaine Guion Cuvee Prestige (Bourgueil): Brambly red fruit & spice peeking out their heads from under a pound or so of fertilizer $14 C- #

James’ tweet really got me thinking that a) it’s NOT just me, and b) my samples might actually be indicative of the general quality of those regions’ wines.

Sorry to those who really dig Chinon, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that the concept of terroir extends to poop-aroma-inducing yeasts (and possibly dirty winemaking equipment).  When the day comes that winemakers deliberately cultivate the wild yeasts that induce those off-odors, and it can be proven scientifically, then I’ll stop calling it a flaw and instead refer to it as a poor winemaking decision.

But until then, it’s a flaw.






  • Rob

    I think you should visit and try a few more wines before calling any police to "the Loire" – its a pretty big place. Or do you just use the one, giant, tarring brush for the whole region?

  • Richard Scholtz

    I've only had one Chinon, ever, and it smelled of dairy air so strongly that I could not drink it. Interestingly, I've only really noticed it in the red wines, as the whites I've had seem to be fine. Maybe the red wine makers are just dirty.

  • @norcalwingman

    I've heard that once a winery is "infected" with brett that it would be nearly impossible to get rid of, so what's the cure? Slash and burn?

    just wondering

  • 1WineDude

    Hi all – thanks for the comments! Just checking in quickly during layover in Vegas airport…

    I agree with the criticism that I'm painting too broad a stroke, and I should have titled the post "on Chinon" and not "on the Loire" which of course is an enormous and varied wine-making region.

    In this post, I'm talking specifically about Chinon and Bourgueil reds.

    In terms of eradicating brett, the cure is typically intestive cleaning, replacement of equipment, pitching infected barrels… my understanding is that it is anything but cheap!


  • Ted Henry

    Believe it or not CA winemakers (and more commonly brewers)have cultivated those yeasts that produce those off-odors. Brett can produce many different aromas depending on the ratio of 4-ethylphenol, 4-ethylguaiacol and isovaleric acid. Some strains seem to be less poopy and have been intentionally added for "complexity". This was a while ago, I think as a response to critics favoring it. Not sure if it still goes on.

    I think its a stupid idea, as Brian said it is really hard to get rid of once its present. And personally I can't stand when it is a dominate character in the wine. A definite flaw in my book.

  • Shea

    I suspect that you need to taste more examples. Writing off a region based on 2 wines seems silly to me. Baudry makes many cuvees, most of which have absolutely no sign of brett and are, in fact, quite clean and expressive.

    • 1WineDude

      You're right, Shea – as I mentioned above, the title was a poor choice on my part, being much too broad. Cheers!

  • Guest

    This discussion of yeast seems odd in this context. Baudry does not employ exogenous yeasts, although I cannot speak for Guion. Baudry is brought in by Louis/Dressner selections- these wines tends to skew heavily towards extremely earthy profiles. think one would be hard-pressed to find Chinons & Bourgeuils devoid of any earth and simply brimming with Cabernet Franc fruit- they don't roll like that. I think the key is finding a nice balance between the fruit and those vinous qualities you are (perhaps erroneously) attributing to commercial yeast strains and dirty barrels. Charles Joguet, Olga Raffault (brought in by L/D but less earthy than most) and Couly-Dutheil are good bets. In my experience, if you are craving more fruit, 2005s will be more generous. It was a riper vintage.

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