Wednesday, March 9, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Wine Q & A

Whoa! Sweaty-saddle smell is sign of "brett"

Q: At a recent meeting of my wine tasting group, some of the members who work in the wine industry talked of smelling and tasting "brett" in some of the wines. What is "brett"?

A: Brettanomyces (the full name), also called Dekkera, is a type of bacteria that can infect winery barrels and ultimately impact the wine itself. It is detectable primarily in the aroma of red wines and can be picked up as a sweaty saddle, tack-room aroma. Sometimes it can turn mousy, or slightly rubbery, like a Band-Aid. It is generally considered to be a serious flaw in a finished wine, although in many parts of Europe brett has been an accepted component of the barnyard character in certain somewhat rustic reds.

I have a fair tolerance for brett in wines, as long as it is a nuance and not a full-fledged flavor. But it is very difficult, if not impossible, to manage, and American wineries seem to have different, more aggressive strains of brett than those in Europe. When strong flavors of barnyard, sweaty saddle and horse overwhelm all the fruit in even a young wine, you have far too much brett on the loose in your winery. And that is a problem.

Paul Gregutt answers questions weekly in the Wine section. He can be reached by e-mail at

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