Huasa de Trequilemu, Cauquenes, 2012


Pale garnet in colour.  Intense nose that is dominated by Elastoplast, with some fragrant horse manure. It’s a bit of a brett bomb, but there is also red fruit – perfumed cherry notes.  Maybe rubber and menthol aspects.  Medium high acidity, and low but detectable astringency. Intense, light and delicate. Lifted and refreshing.  Great complexity, and great length. Tingly, fragrant, bretty finish. This still primary, but I don’t think I would let it age further. It is best slightly chilled. Difficult to rate, but if pushed I’d give it ****

This is a challenging wine in more than one way. I first came across it at L’Enclume, offered as a match for their venison with charcoal oil. I thought it was a great dish with great wine, and the pairing was superb. One of the best introductions you could hope for, but I still love the wine after drinking a few bottles in more modest surroundings.  However, my enthusiasm is not shared by everyone, and I can understand that. By any standards the wine is weird, and technically it is faulty. The dominant smell of Elastoplast is the result of a brett (short for brettanomyces) infection, which is perhaps better known for its farmyardy smells.

But is it a fault if you like the result? Some would say not, by definition, while others argue that brett is always negative. In practice, I am not sure how it would be possible to have the same wine, but without the brett, to compare. So will we ever be sure? This is in marked contrast to the situation with a corked wine, where you can often open another bottle to compare, and the clean one is always better. For more on brett, see also this blog post of mine. Ultimately, unless you get into an argument with your sommelier when you try to return it, I am not sure it matters whether you call it a fault or not. If you like the wine, buy it and drink it. Also buy it if you want to be challenged. If you want an easy ride, there is plenty of other Chilean wine to be picked up at supermarkets.

The producer is Agricola Luyt Ltda, the grape País, it’s 13.7%, and I bought it for around £18 from Buon Vino in Settle. See also this blog post on Luyt and Clos Ouvert by Rob from Buon Vino for a bit of background.

The joy of brett

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.