When I was in my twenties, I belonged to a tasting group with equally “deep” tasting experience. We considered ourselves experts and would nod at each other knowingly as we tasted a bottle of funky, smelly Burgundy and say seriously, “goût de terroir.” We thought we really knew our stuff as we forced ourselves to drink and appreciate those awful old wines full of Brettanomyces, or Brett as those in the wine-know call it. All we knew is they were expensive and famous so that must be what great wines tasted like.
Brettanomyces is a strain of yeast that gives all sorts of lovely aromas and flavors to wines like: Band-Aids, sweaty horse saddle, barnyard or merde – it's funny how if you used the same word in English no one would dream of considering it a positive, but when we said it in French somehow it worked.
We loved, or thought we loved, wines full of that supposed goût de terroir and merde. If we tasted those wines today we would grimace and pour them down the drain. There were whole regions of wine dominated by the off-smells caused by Brettanomyces. Happily those days are gone and young wine tasters are spared this experience. Wine after all should taste of fruit, not shit and real goût de terroir is a wonderful thing that does not remind one of Band-Aids.
However, it is true that just a bit of Brett can make a wine more interesting and layered, but by a bit I mean just a tiny bit.
As it is such easy sport to lampoon The Wine Spectator, it is easy to fall into the trap of never noting its successes. The March 31st 2006 issue contains some very good information in the form of a very nice article on Brettanomyces by Daniel Sogg. It is well worth reading for anyone not sure what the Brett fuss is all about. You will of course find this article way at the back of the magazine behind all the points and celebrity auction photos.
A great article in The Wine Spectator: no merde.