A recent seminar at UC Davis seems to have sparked a little flurry of discussion on brett. These seem to be five of the PowerPoint presentations used at the seminar: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. And here are a couple of interesting follow-up articles I came across on wine-searcher and Palate Press.
I thought the brett debate amongst wine lovers was relatively straightforward. Some think that no detectable level of brett is acceptable, not only for its unpleasant aromas, but because it suppresses more positive aromas in the wine. On the other hand, a commonly expressed opinion is that, at low levels, bretty smells add interest to a wine – complexity if you like. But even those who see low levels of brett as potentially positive seem to implicitly agree that the smells are basically rather unpleasant.
However, findings presented at this seminar (presumably they were known before, but certainly not by me) throw the debate wide open. It appears that some aromas produced by brett are judged by some people to be unequivocally positive. These include chili powder, red pepper, black pepper, cardamom, leather, cooked meat, smoked meat, coffee, mocha, graphite and cigar. I don’t think it is being claimed that these aromas are always due to brett, but they certainly can be. My guess is that no one really knows how they arise in practice. Another example is the bretty band-aid aroma, which apparently is recognised much more positively as five-spice by those more familiar with Chinese cooking than Western hospitals.
However, even given this positive angle, there is still the issue of how to encourage bretty aromas to develop in the right direction – to improve the wine rather than reduce it only to the smell of shit. We might well learn how to do this in the winemaking process. Indeed we must do it already to an extent, even if we do not know exactly how it works. But after bottling, the conditions to which the wine is subjected are out of the hands of the winemaker. So unless any remaining brett is zapped with a pre-bottling injection of sulphur, each bottle will develop unpredictably depending on the precise content of the bottle and its environment.
A new Brett Impact Wheel of aromas was presented at the UC Davis seminar, and I am wondering if brett connoisseurship might become one of the next big things in wine, replacing minerality and terroir expression as subject to discuss. If it does, remember you heard it first here.