Friday, November 30, 2007

The guy named Brett, in the Barnyard with the loaf of Bread

When was the last time you played the game of Clue? You remember don't you? The one where one winner gets to shout, "It's Ms. Scarlet, in the dining room with the candlestick!" thereby declaring the suspect, location and weapon used in the "murder." Well, I present you with a new version of the classic game. This one is called: What is that Smell?

When I first began hanging around people who "know a lot about wine," I remember being told that this or that wine was "bready." I would then stick my nose in the glass and take a nice long whiff, hoping that I too would be able to smell that home-baked goodness. I certainly smelled a lot of something, but it wasn't bread, it was stink; a combination of horse manure and wet gym shoes. Where was the bread and how could my nose be so off? Maybe in passing by the south end of Central Park, I had inhaled just as a horse drawn carriage was passing, thereby allowing manure molecules to lodge themselves deep in my nasal passages. Alright, let's be honest; it had been weeks since I had last visited midtown or the park.

On another occasion I was sampling a particularly wild wine. The Olivier Cousin Anjou Pur Breton 2004 had actually been made from grapes that were grown on land that had been tilled by horses. The sommelier who happened to be sampling the wine with me said that it was too "bready" for his taste. I asked him to clarify and discovered that he was actually talking about that same funky horse poop meets dirty shoe smell that I had recognized in the previous wine. Well, apparently no one had told me that "bread" was both a delicious food item and an off-putting barnyard aroma.

I thought I had solved the puzzle until I mentioned the "bready" quality of Olivier Cousin's wine to another wine expert. He turned to me and said, do you mean "Brett?" Aha! I was given a very important piece of the puzzle. That soft "t" had sounded like a "d" to me.

Mystery solved: Brett stands for Brettanomyces, a unicellular fungus that can infect the wine. It causes that barnyard odor. It can also creates spicy and smoky smells. More often the "Bretty" quality can be found in old world wines. Brettanomyces is a problem, because if it is not controlled it can cause widespread contamination throughout a winery. However, many people actual enjoy and seek out bretty wines. Why would anyone want their wine to smell like horse manure you might ask? Well, think about it like cheese - where mold is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it makes you throw the cheese in the trash and sometimes it makes you pay $24 dollars a pound!

Tasting Notes:
2004 Olivier Cousin Anjou Pur Breton is a biodynamic wine made from Cabernet Franc. Its taste changes with each sip - one moment bursting fruit, the next horse manure, tabacco and tar. If you like rustic wine, you will like this one. It was a little too bretty for me. 17.99

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you for your insight. I know very little about wine other than what tastes good to me. I just purchased a bottle of Chateau Los Boldos Merlot Tradition 2004 Requinoa (to be honest, it was on sale at Whole Foods Market so I thought I'd give it a try). I've heard of tainted wine and when I smelled this wine, I was appalled with the smell. Then i was irritated because I thought i was left without anything to have with my dinner.I gingerly sipped the wine with a bit of nice cheese (thinking...am I going to make myself ill by drinking tainted wine) and was surprised that it did not taste like the horse manure aroma that I was smelling. I figured before I poured this bottle out, I should do some research. Thank you....I now know that the wine is fine...and doesnt need to be disposed of. Not that I'm going to make a habit of drinking manure smelling wine.

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