This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term.
Brett (n.) Tasting Term
Brett describes a fault or favor, depending on the brett level and your point of view, that can throw barnyard, animal or mousy aromas and a metallic after taste. In it's simplest definition, brett, short for brettanomyces, is a naturally occurring fungi that can populate grape bunches, though is more often found in the winery, especially in old oak barrels and wooden casks. Many of us, including myself, appreciate a little game and funk, like the Mathieu Coste Coteaux du Giennois 2007 I wrote about earlier this week or the Hervé Villemade Cheverny Rouge 2014. It can be mistaken for cork, though for me, cork is a dank basement odor sans the animal or sweaty hide aromas.
If you're wondering what the hell I mean by "mousy," it's a legitimate term. Personally, I can't honestly describe a wine as mousy because I don't know what mice and their urine smell like. Do you? I once had a mouse problem back in my futon days in New York, first discovered by the tunnel dug straight through the center of an unopened loaf of bread. That mouse later woke me up at 4 AM when it's tail and back leg got entangled in a sticky glue trap about 3 feet from my floor-level head. It was traumatizing for us both, and one of us had to swallow a couple jiggers of whiskey to pull it together. But I can not on my life remember how the bastard smelled.
Sulfur dioxide can, to some extent, ward off brettanomyces, killing any traces of the bacteria, which is one reason winemakers use it and, at times, use it generously. Oxygen can aggravate and feed any occurring brett fungi as well, a factor in some winemaker's decision to block all or most all wine from flirting with air. As I've mentioned on Pig&Vine before, how these matters are handled in the winery are widely debated and run the spectrum from absolute faith in natural forces to absolute enslavement to money and a sure thing. (I'm not biased at all)
So when someone declares a wine has brett or is bretty, now you know what they're talking about.