That Poopy Smell In Your Wine…It’s All Good
Leave it to the University of California at Davis and to the school’s Dr. Linda Bisson and Dr. Lucy Joseph to give the dreaded Brettanomyces yeast a new lease on life in an era where clean and wholesome winemaking seems to be the desired norm.
Brettanomyces (“Brett”) is commonly understood to be a defect when detectable in a wine. It is known as the organism that provides a wine a “barnyardy” (poop) aroma or, in what some would call its more attractive form, a wet newspaper aroma. For most winemakers and wine lovers discussing the variants of brett aromas is akin to baseball coaches and fans discussing the various types of strikeouts. Either way, the batter takes the bench.
But in a new study highlighted by our friends over at Wines & Vines magazine, it seems that Drs. Bisson and Joseph have delivered us good reason to reconsider our views of brett in wine. In fact, the two professors have created an aroma wheel that describes both positive and negative aromas associated with brett in wine. Let me repeat part of that: POSITIVE aromas associated with brett in wine:
“Bisson and UC Davis Viticulture & Enology Department staff member Lucy Joseph released a Brett aroma wheel …the result of a study the two performed on a collection of 83 Brett strains, of which 17 were identified as positive and five as negative by a sensory panel….The positive strains did add something good to the wine rather than just not befouling it, Bisson said. The finding would appear to underscore the essence of the Brett debate between those disgusted by its flaws versus others intrigued by its complexities.”
Bisson and Joseph have identified various categories of brett aromas including “Animal”, “Savory”, “Woody”, “Putrid”, “Chemical/Solvent”, “Veggie”, “Fruit”, “Floral” and “Spice”. What’s interesting, and notable I think, is that these categories might easily be used to describe nearly all aroma found in all wine, not just aromas put off by the brett in a wine.
The vast majority of California winemakers attempt brett out of their wine entirely. This is the case because all too often the aromas put off by brett are really nasty, particularly when they are evident at a level that can be detected by more than just those who, for some reason, appear to be hyper sensitive to brett aromas. Personally, my experience with brett is that I don’t mind it when evident in the tiniest degree, even when the aroma falls into the “poop” or barnyardy category of aromas. But it is so rarely tamped down like that.
Of course the upshot of this is that now I must carry not just the aroma wheel with me when I’m set to dive into and describe a set of wines, but also a Brett Aroma Wheel so that I might more easily identify the kind of brett aroma I’m smelling. And another question arises: does it matter one bit that the spicy aroma I smell in the Pinot is a product of brett?