What We Now Know of Brettanomyces

UC Davis has just completed a conference that focused primarily on the rather infamously known Brettanomyces yeasts that’s a cause for wine spoilage. This conference was, I suspect, more about a rivalry with Berkley – those pricks educators get all the wine studies! Damn their funding!

I will link you to the article below, but I’ll give you the run down here instead – only because I should be re-writing a script right now.

Every time I drink, I ingest millions of you. With benevolence.

Eighty-three strains of Brett were tested; seventeen of which were shown to have a beneficial, or pleasant, effect on a wine it has “infected.” What can be pleasant about a known source of spoilage and stank? It can “smell like roses.” Yes, finesse and elegance has been found to be a factor of some Brett strains.

The good Brett (Saccharomyces) is the wild yeast that is typically found in the  vineyard and cluster of grapes, barrels and the like.

Then there’s the other Brett that comes from all other sources that are typically controlled through hygienic means. Foreign yeasts are carried over by worker’s clothing, animals, fecal matter and other various fun things that have no place in a lauded wine.

There’s a compound duly named “cadaverine” that gives off that dead-man smell, or a barnyard sensibility to the linger. Further, this produces isovaleric acid that’s the same component of your feet’s odor after spending the night standing and chatting away with other winos. Other Bretts, too, such as 4-EP and 4-EG are known to give the barnyard smell, or an ash-like redolence. Agriculturists and geologists should take heed, just don’t give the Brett wines to a theoretical mathematician, you’ll only incite them further to keep to their whiskeys.

The article goes on to say the obvious: not all of us hate this smell. Italians are said to like and welcome the off-odor. It’s not taken pejoratively there. And no, that’s not an invitation for hairy armpit jokes. Americans and their hygienic fixations…a wonder!

Further, everyone’s tastes are a little different. For instance we had a wine that was undeniably laden with Brettanomyces. It was like diving head first into a pile or rotting hay – what I can only imagine is akin to how the old cliché film moment goes, the whole tossing a woman into the haystack to make ravenous love. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I could perform with a billy goat giving me the eye. I digress, back to the wine: I didn’t hate it, but the Misses gloated over it. To the wine’s credit there was a distinct old-world feel to it. It had that sun-down-valley connotation. The linger wasn’t thrilling, but there was a sensible prudence to the texture and body. There it is. Isn’t this just a reiteration of The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s plot?

“Cigar” like qualities are also to be blamed (read: praised) with Brett, as well as mocha, meat and “graphite.”

Pointing to the Rhône valley in particular, “wines are supposed to taste peppery because certain Brett strains are part of [that] environment,” says UC Davis. Bordeaux wines are “loaded” with 4-EG and 4-EP strains. Call it quality or controlled sans-sanitation.

W. Blake Grey, the articles writer, likened this find to Luke Skywalker being told that Lord Vader was his father. It’s a weak analogy. Let me do him one better. What it’s really like is coming to the realization that, even after years of earnest proclamations otherwise, that Star Trek: The Voyage Home really was the best movie of the six original films. You’re ashamed, frightened and a little unsure of how to continue on with life as a normal, functional human being. But in the ends, It’s going to be okay. Come full circle, you had a damn good time with the film. You may have to let previous pretensions go.

Source. Plate Press.


Mid-March Stacked bottles

Brettanomyces. It’s that bacteria that can creep up in some bottles of so called “flawed” wines. You’ll know you have got these nefarious bacterium when you take a sniff and get a report back of cheap band-aids or a rather distinct barn yard must after a storm. Sometimes you taste it in the wine’s linger. It’s mostly a bad experience. I say mostly because, well, sometimes it’s wild, funky, and even a little fascinating. Not every wine I’ve encountered with this hamartia has tasted flawed. I really don’t have an answer for why this works with some wines over others. I just have to accept that this event simply works or does not. It’s either pleasing or displeasing, with a surprising lack of middle ground. But further, I have found that when the barn yard, off-manure tinge comes around (and it somehow works) it has a tendency to be symbiotic with its core – its sense of place. It fits right in there. Maybe by this point, when found after bottling, it would be considered a flaw by the vintner. If this is the case, it’s a problem. When someone’s creation does not exude the qualities they wanted to provide you can easily call foul of their vision. On the other hand the vintner may have wanted this quality to come through, this evocation of agriculture. The only way you can know if this particular mustness works is, by technicality of evocation alone, to talk with a vintner in person.
Brettanomyces is a break in wine modality. And people will have their own set of judgements about it, usually from pretension. It’s something we all do coming into anything we consume. Think texture. Say, you may hate mushed fruit, and then find yourself served a coarse of some vegetable confit that resembles that which you most despise? You’re going to be weary, or flat out hate the dish before you even give haste to experience it. If you ever do. Certainly, you have to smell a wine before drinking it (read: unless your a deviant, or, a moscato imbiber). So if Brett is there, you’ll pick up on it immediately. What I am arguing is that you should be adventurous in your wine tasting. Don’t throw, or spit, or hand it off to someone you dislike. Indiana-Jones-it instead. Plunge in, take that the gold statue. If things turn sour, deal with it and run away from the giant spherical rock chasing you.
It’s an experience. You only have so many of them. Take them all in stride.

2010 Santa Carolina Carménère Tres Estrellas Santa Carolina – $15
A blossom nose with many different intrigues buried inside. Tight and concentrated. Dark as a whole, but easy sipping until finished. Tar, mint and earth predominates the palate. There’s a sour-fecal note in the finish. As bad as that sounds, it’s wine; and if you experienced such a manure-like finish with a wine, you’ll know why it’s not that horrible of an experience. This seems to fade over time, however, and the wine seems respectable enough in the end.
mail.google.com2009 Rocca Delle Macíe Chianti – $17
Earthy, sugar wafts drift through the nose. The body is bold and pleasant, if not a little thin in texture. Silky and easily drunk. The wine is not commanding, but it’s decidedly storied in its feel, very old-world and dusty. Chianti proves once again to be an impressive verital on the cheap.
A worthy wine for the price.

2011 Parducci Small Lot Pinot Noir – $14
An elegant linger with a punch of depth. This is something interesting. Herbaceous and fruity, like if one of Mario’s enemies (piranha plants) were actually kind and intoxicating – meaning this has a kind of nefarious side to it, you want to leap on top of it and stomp it down. It’s great fun to take down. An unremarkable nose, but nothing unpleasant. Great value, and very worthy at that.

2010 Mark West Pinot Noir – $13
No real sense of a varietal or place. It’s just a red, rich wine that’s just short of being okay. On the nose, the barn-yard “thang” – the bacteria brettanomyces running rampant? This is usually a problem (e.g. this Mark West), but can be somewhat wild and complementary to well-defined wines. Like Tarzan. He’s an ape man, but he’s got the abes to back it up. Kind of like that.
Skip it.

2009 Domaine La Garrigue Côtes du Rhône Covée Romaine – $13
*An update to the last post on this particular bottle:
In fear of the last two bottles turning post-ALIENS James Cameron on me (i.e. bad), I rushed to take another of the bottles with me to a vegan pizza dinner. This wine was not at all like the aforementioned bottle. In fact, it was well under control and displayed a finesse I’ve yet to have experienced with the other bottles I’ve had the past year. I can only conclude that this bottle held up better than the last, the other being slightly compromised in some fashion or the other. Strange, but there it is. This, if most bottles hold true to this new discovery, still remains one of the better wines I’ve ever had. Bold and audacious as it esteems to be.

That Personal Connection and a new Stack of Bottles

She sloshed her drink about, not at all privy to her wine spilling as she yelled at him. Her glass was full, then suddenly not. He was quite the bastard, apparently. He “didn’t sleep with her anymore,” he “drank from the milk carton” and his “feet smelled of some fungus” she could only attribute to a mushroom. The wine was helping her elucidate just how much this had bugged her. And she was reminding him of it in front of everyone. It was a laugh for some of us, an excuse to leave early for the rest of us. Still, there were others who had other problems on their mind, they had seemed to forget how to stand upright.  Further, for some reason or another she was quite upset that a man at the party was wearing a pair of snake-skinned boots that went up to about here. This aggravation quickly escalated to her fumbling about with the gentleman on the floor, attempting to remove them for him herself. He was unwilling. Apparently, they were a gift. She didn’t get them, but that hardly stopped them from disappearing some time later in the evening as he lay benumbed in the stairwell. It was sometime in the morning when those boots were seen again. They were in the middle of the road. It was apparent they would never be the same again, torn as they were.

There’s that same wine stain on the carpet that still reminds me of that moment. It was a fine moment. The kind of moment you tell at lunch to get some cheap laughs in an otherwise awkward chat. Everything has a more comical edge once in hindsight.

2010 Wily Jack Zinfandel
Jammy with a hint of sage on the nose. Thin and sweet with no linger. It’s not awful, however; there’s a slight redemption with its jovial tone.
Skip it.  IMG_5971

– –

It was Christmas, 1995. Aunt Raneé brought out this quizzical drink called “champagne.” It looked like ginger ale, but somehow more intriguing, somehow glistening more brightly. I had never seen her laugh so hard. She was stoic as they had come. But suddenly she was going on and on about sledding in the back yard. She had no yard to speak of, not even to mention the lack of a hill. She was wearing her finest silk dress, but was quite insistent on barrel rolling out there despite the screaming cold of the air and the stinging chill of the falling snow. My father gave an extra firm grip as he pulled her in. Ranée husband was sure as hell not up for dealing with her protestations. He read some sportsman magazine through the ordeal, as was his wont during gatherings.

My parents were devout to their religion. Whatever that means; I’ve never been sure. They had no alcohol in the home and never partook even for the most celebratory of occasions. Even a benign prescription from the family doctor for my mother to drink beer for her urinary tract infection was heeded with immense suspicion. Apparently it was the scandal of the neighborhood. But everyone outside of our direct contact had elongated bottles in racks, tin Budweiser in the refrigerator and a special cabinet for a litany of elegant glassware.

My father had an odd glow about him during this party. I didn’t see anything odd going on before hand to suggest a reason for such a look…but there it was. My father had one look; it was a amalgam of stern, easy-breezy forwardness and writhe with a tension that could burst any minute.

I was giving the eye to one of these glasses of champagne that was sitting alone on the edge of the table. I wondered what secrets it held. Why the worry? The fuss? It was truly one of the great mysteries of the world to me. My father nudged me on the shoulder and slid the glass closer to me. I didn’t take it, of course. He was prone to inducing entrapment. When he saw I was having none of it, he handed it to me instead. What’s a boy suppose to do? And this is when I first had a taste of alcohol. The thing they called champagne. It fizzled and tickled and tasted of gold. It was disgusting as all hell. It had this mineral kind of a tinge, like a dry rock I once had to lick during dare.

It was something I hated, of course, but would love (and strive to drink) today. Even then, I knew that something was going on here. The taste has never left my memory.

My sister finked on us to my mother the minute she set foot in the door. She was being moral. I understand that. But, really, she was a boiling pot of jealousy. And I understand that.

2009 Côtes du Rhône Domaine la Garrigue Cuvée Romaine
No longer the great find of last year. I’m stunned and slightly perplexed. The slight effervescence this wine exhibited throughout the many bottles from this same vintage tasted has somehow grown stronger. It’s been six months since the last bottle opened. Now the bubbles and fizz has burst open, almost to the point of being cloying. Furthermore, the dark and tannic nature has deepened, not quelled. It’s as if the wine as a far journey to go yet, but the effervescence is quite troubling. It’s very nexus is a schizophrenic, wanting to go this way and that.
Something is telling me the wine has gone past its prime and is descending into vinegar territory.
A glass the next evening turned out to give a more prudent nature to the wine. The fizz was gone, the tannins brought down the earth and the ink-y, full bodied nature more like a folk lullaby than a rock stadium.
Still hanging on Worthy.

cotes– –

I’m reminded of Donovan’s lyrics from his hit song “Atlantis.” “Way down below the ocean / where I want to be / she may be.” Forgetting any connections you may link with inebriation to being underwater, I find myself looking to wine in the same way Donovan may have looked for a deeper mode of being. For a woman or for life, it was never very clear. For a time lost, never to return. Or it could be that he was wishing to flee to somewhere you could never normally be. Maybe this was love. Perhaps this was why we love anything at all. It’s way down there, where we want to be.

It’s no secret that the masses for over a millennia have being using wine, beers and other such spirits to escape the every day drudgery. It’s not all drudgery, however. That’s especially true in today’s world. And yet we’re always searching; either that or we’re running away en masse. Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

And I have to wonder why we seek inebriation time and time again. It can be a Pavlovian response, if you want it to be. Or you could take the scientific route and say that our brains are constantly looking out for altered states of consciousness as a method of evolution. They had said that, hadn’t they? That what’s challenging to our brains is something that life in general seeks? Like sifting through, possibly helpful, mutations. A way of weaving out the weak from the strong, the benefit or deficit? Or it could be that we’re wandering about with our hands out in front of us searching through a sheet dark ethereal fog. We take a plunge and hope to find something to cling onto. But do we see anything on that black and bleak horizon? Some point of light so far into the distance we can scarcely make out a pigment of color, a shape or contour?

That’s what’s so evocative about wine. You might be able to get a glimpse of what’s going on, but it’s otherwise inexplicable.

Other than wine’s sensual and artistic appeal, i’ll be the first to admit that’s not why I always reach out for that extra glass. In fact, I don’t know what’s in an inebriation.  It feels great, but what am I getting at? Where am I sinking to? Where am I running away to? If it’s all about pleasure, then why can it bring so much turmoil? And we seek this out. I’m telling you, we’re a mad bunch. Mad.

2011 Amberhill Secret Blend
A little plum, a little lavender on the nose. An interesting acidity with a medium body feel. Dark enough to enjoy for a glass, interesting once a good amount of air gets in there. It’s like a truly good joke that dies along with your buzz. That’s to say, it was still a damned good joke.

– –

He was going on and on about his travels from Taiwan, to Hong Kong, Kathmandu, Moscow and Ontario. I don’t talk much. I listen. This was fine way to pass the evening with people you otherwise indifferent to. The chap was obviously well versed in the nuances of his own travels, and I was learning quite a bit. There’s a catch-22 here, however. I would never had stuck around to listen about the lengthy travel campaign if it weren’t for wine. Yet, I was quite out-of-sorts about something or other from earlier in the day and had many drinks, thus, was fascinated by all he was telling me; about where to get the best Pad Thai in some foreign outskirts of a popular tourist trap, or how to live cheaply in Madrid. It was all pieces of advice I would have loved to heed and utilize, but I could only remember little of it the next day. Even now, the three hour tale of his journeys only seem like an absurdest, abstract painting.

2009 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir
Pale garnet in the glass with some brown at the fringe. A darker nose, light touches of cherry. A cool wine that moves through the mouth like a breeze. Odd for a pinot, the dark and heavy back-end it has. It’s got almost nothing in the front, only a smidgen of detail in the mid, but it furnishes a relaxing, long linger in the back of the throat.
I’m not sure if this wine would benefit from a longer staging. It seems like a peak has already come and past, only whispering now of what it was.
It’s a good overall wine, but I hesitate to say it’s a representation of pinot noir.

– –

We we’re discussing the future. How uncertain it was and is and always will be. On and on about that, well into the night. It’s hard talking about what’s most dear, most secret and most potent. Because that’s all you have that is dear and sacred. Luckily wine is there. Wine allows that thin mask that everyone tend to prominently display in front of them to be temporarily tossed and forgotten. You could call it being more human. But I won’t pretend to know that’s the answer to that question. It could be more inhuman. All I know is that it breaks some boundaries well enough for such a reserved person, such as myself, to trust in someone enough to take advice.

And advice I got. We split a bottle of the finest bottle from my collection. We philosophized and dissected everything that’s been wrong and could go wrong and will be wrong. Like a lecture of the geological approximation of a devastating earthquake; it could be soon, far off, never happen, or be nothing but pure conjecture. And that’s how deep and meaningful situations in life go. It’s a ball of uncertainty. One in which wine helps quell, sift through and provide insight.

Life does not need wine. But it’s these small, nearly insignificant moments within life that can be given a soupçon of alleviation, a dash of intrigue or release that wine can provide. To experience wine, and how we as a culture utilize it, is inheritanly human. And how I’ve loved my moments with it.