What does Brett taste like in wine?

Answered by Jeremy Urbaniak

Brett, short for Brettanomyces, is a yeast that can be found naturally in the environment and can also be present in wineries. Its presence in wine can greatly influence the aroma and flavor profile of the wine. The compounds produced by Brett can vary, resulting in different sensory characteristics.

One of the most common aromas associated with Brett is the barnyard note. This is often described as a funky or earthy smell, reminiscent of a horse stable or a damp cellar. It can be quite polarizing, with some wine enthusiasts finding it intriguing and others finding it off-putting. The barnyard note is typically more pronounced at higher levels of Brett contamination.

Another aroma associated with Brett is the Band-Aid or medicinal smell. This can be described as a phenolic or antiseptic aroma, reminiscent of the adhesive used on Band-Aids. While this may not sound particularly appealing, in small amounts it can actually contribute to the complexity of the wine, adding a touch of intrigue.

In some cases, Brett can also produce smoky or spicy aromas. This can lend a certain level of attractiveness to the wine, with hints of cloves or even black pepper. These aromas can be quite subtle and add a layer of complexity to the overall sensory experience.

However, as the level of Brett contamination increases, the negative effects become more pronounced. At high levels, the wine can taste metallic and stripped of fruit. The desirable characteristics that Brett can contribute at low levels are overshadowed by off-flavors and a lack of freshness. This is why winemakers and wine enthusiasts generally aim to minimize or eliminate Brett contamination in wines.

It’s important to note that the perception of Brett aromas and flavors can vary from person to person. Some individuals may be more sensitive to the compounds produced by Brett and may detect them at lower levels, while others may not perceive them as strongly. Additionally, the presence of other compounds and the overall balance of the wine can influence how Brett is perceived.

In my personal experience, I have encountered wines with varying levels of Brett contamination. Some wines had just a hint of the barnyard note, which added an interesting layer of complexity to the wine. On the other hand, I have also come across wines where the Brett was overpowering, resulting in an unpleasant medicinal taste. It’s always fascinating to see how Brett can transform the aroma and flavor profile of a wine, but it’s certainly a fine line between adding complexity and detracting from the overall enjoyment of the wine.

Brett in wine can contribute a range of aromas and flavors, including barnyard, Band-Aid, and smoky notes. At low levels, it can add complexity and intrigue, but at higher levels, it can overshadow the fruit and result in off-flavors. The perception of Brett can vary from person to person, and it’s generally preferred to minimize or eliminate Brett contamination in wines to maintain freshness and balance.