Finding faults: brettanomyces


Brettanomyces can smell like horse. Illustration: Nicolas Boron
Illustration: Nicolas Boron
Have you ever had a wine that smells like barnyard, or horse? In the second instalment of our series investigating the world of wine faults, we reveal all about brettanomyces

This is one that divides crowds. Brettanomyces is a type of yeast that can make its way into wine via the vineyard or winery, producing aromas of barnyard, horse or plasters. Interestingly it isn’t a fault in beer; in fact, it’s an important yeast used by brewers to make traditional styles of beer both here and in Belgium.

In small quantities, “brett” can add a layer of complexity to wine; in high quantities, however, it can be unpleasant. You’re more likely to find it in reds than whites (it’s also quite common in orange wine or skin-contact whites). Certain grapes’ natural flavour profile includes aromas that are similar to those produced by brett – particularly Syrah and Mourvèdre, which tend to have a leathery, savoury note. The level at which brett becomes a fault is subjective, and the wine won’t be harmful, no matter how bretty it is.

Next time, we’ll be looking at light strike. Follow our series on wine faults here.