Wine and Food Diary of Giles MacDonogh BLOGS/CORRESPONDENTS

My Mate Brett

Written by Giles MacDonogh

My Mate Brett

Posted: 1st April 2022

I was at a wine writers’ dinner not so long ago. We had volunteered to bring bottles from our collections. There was a mature Côte Rôtie from a top grower on the table. I liked it, but I was told by a neighbour it had ‘Brett’. The wine was subsequently severely ostracised. Later on when most of the other contributions had been drunk up, I returned to the pariah. It didn’t seem so bad to me: there were one or two rustic notes that were well in accord with the better Syrah wines I enjoyed in my youth, so I enjoyed another couple of glasses before I left.

‘Brett’ or ‘Brettanomyces’, to give it its full name, is a wild yeast that can give a wine a farmyard character evidently much decried these days. It seems to be particularly noticeable in cask-aged wines made from Syrah (Shiraz) and Pinot Noir. Thirty years ago not much was known about it. When I travelled to Australia in 1990 (where coincidentally every second Australian seems to be called ‘Brett’) to write a book about Syrah, I was fed horror stories about the wines of the Hunter Valley that gave off an unpleasant ‘sweaty saddle’ aroma: a leathery note that could with time become stilton rinds or horse manure. When I finally reached the Valley, some examples were presented to me. One or two of these wines were indeed quite undrinkable.

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Giles MacDonogh

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