What is Brettanomyces? And why do you care?
While it may be a mouthful, it’s actually your nose that knows brettanomyces — more commonly referred to by the seemingly innocuous nickname, brett. If you’ve ever stuck your snoot into a wine glass and breathed in an aroma that reminded you of walking into a Montreal deli, you’ve experienced brett. Same goes if you’ve ever noticed the medicinal smell of an adhesive bandage and the funk of a barnyard, wet leather or cheese — all are typical aromatic characteristics that can reveal themselves in brett-influenced juice.
Brettanomyces is a yeast with three distinctive components that determine which stink gets stunk. It most commonly affects red wines, but not exclusively, and is typically introduced to a winery by insects, through the use of infected barrels or by hiding on the grapes themselves.
Though many wine fans see brett as a negative, there’s an equal amount (including yours truly) that find some of its attributes (especially its leathery and more organically prominent expressions) appealing. In fact many winemakers (arguably in a bit of brett denial) insist their eclectic aromas come from their individual terroir rather than from brettanomyces.