What is Brettanomyces? And why do you care?

By / Magazine / January 13th, 2017 / 19

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.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on Alliant.net to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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