jamie goode's wine blog: Brettanomyces at the Cafe Anglais

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brettanomyces at the Cafe Anglais

One of the recurring subjects in the wine world is brettanomyces, the rogue yeast that's common in red wines, and which some people think is always bad, and some people think can add complexity according to context.

Kiwi winemaker Matt Thomson (Delta, Saint Clair etc.) ran a masterclass on the topic yesterday, organized by Liberty Wines, who Matt does quite a bit of work for in Italy. It was held at the newly opened Cafe Anglais in Bayswater, where we had a really good lunch. This is Rowley Leigh's new venture, and the food was really good, even though the service was a little patchy. [We had some great hors d'ouvres (oysters, parmesan custard and toast, smoked fish, sardines) followed by spaghetti, followed by a lovely cut of rare roast beef, culminating in a super cheese board.]

I'm writing up the seminar to put on the site tomorrow, but in the interim, one interesting nugget: brett loves oak. It particularly likes toasted new barrels, and has been found 8 mm deep in staves. It can feed off cellobiose that is formed when barrels are toasted. ‘Brett can occur in the cleanest cellars’, says Thomson. ‘If you use new oak, you will get brett: it is not something you can associate just with a dirty cellar’.

But Thomson goes further, to suggest that not only is brett associated with new oak, but also he has identified specific coopers who have a problem with bretty barrels, although he won’t name them.

He also thinks that brett is a growing problem. ‘I am convinced that in large numbers of wineries in both the new and old worlds, brett is a new thing.’ Thomson has a theory that something happened to oak in the relatively recent past. ‘Something happened with the huge demand for new oak in the 1980s. Coopers had a boom period and started doing something different, and there was a change’.

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At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A question pertaining both to this blog entry and the longer article on the main site.
You wrote that brett can particularly damage wines from Pinot Noir due to their aromatics.
Common knowledge has it that brett particularly affects red wines from reductive varieties such as Syrah or Mourvedre. Has the issue of brett vs. reduction not been addressed at this seminar?

At 9:18 AM, Anonymous mark bunter said...

Yes, there's been a change, allright, but I'd hesitate to blame the coopers. We're making higher pH wines, using higher Brix must (leading to more RS), and using less SO2, than in the past. Also, more skin contact/maceration is now the norm. We're using more nutrients than ever. Wine is microorganism soup. Brett has always been part of the soup. This is simply an ecology puzzle. Fortunately, we have better tools to diagnose and manage Brett than ever before. A truly astounding technological development is that we can even remove the smelly Brett metabolites if we wish. That would blow Pasteur away! If a wine smells like a barnyard, it's because the winemaker allowed it to do so. Frankly, we make Bretty wines because Parker likes them. For too many wines there is so little else to smell or taste that I'm not surprised some people have come to like barnyard, like they do oakiness. I'd bet that a survey of all wines would show a lower incidence of Brett today than ever before, because so much production now takes place in metal or plastic tanks with MOX and oak adjuncts- no Brett! Gallo has had no trouble making oceans of Brett-free wine for a long long time. The cheap European wines I often drink also seem to be cleaner (not necessarily better) than I remember they used to be. As for the Syrah/Mourvedre/Pinot issue, I would think any correlation of Brett with reductive character ties into the fermentation biochemistry/nutrient function. Of course, it's all endlessly entertaining, like so many wine issues. What would writers do without Brett, TCA, reduction, alcohol levels, screw caps, oak, etc.?

At 10:53 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

anon, no - I suspect the reason brett attacks reductive varieties more is that these are grown in warmer climates where pH is higher and phenolic content is greater - Pinot is generally grown in cooler climates and the lower pH is quite protective (albeit indirectly).

Mark, thank you for your insightful and entertaining comment.


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