Monday, March 12, 2007

Bring On the Funk: the 2005 Domaine du Vissoux "Les Garants" Fleurie

Barnyard. Dung. Merde. Stable. Horse-sweat. If you've ever seen a wine review that has one of these descriptors and wondered a) had the critic lost her/his mind? b) was this a positive review, or a negative one? or c) what are they talking about? here's what was going on: brettanomyces.

It's a big word for a little yeast that can creep in to a wine and lead to spoilage. Affectionately known as "brett" by wine experts, there are lots of folks who believe that a touch of brett actually adds a note of complexity to wine. This is especially true of burgundy drinkers, who sometimes seek out bretty wines. Don't believe me? Just check out this recent post by Fred Koeppel. Of course, too much brett and you find yourself in the same position as Quaffability's JohnG and his wife, drinking a wine and thinking of cleanup chores after walking your dog.

People's sensitivity to brett varies enormously. Some can detect even the slightest hint of the stuff and pour the rest of the bottle down the drain. Others can tolerate quite a bit in their wines. Red wines are especially prone to developing the brett yeast, and the incidence of brett may actually be on the rise for a variety of reasons. First, wines that have been minimally manipulated are increasingly popular. Minimalist wine-making, as Wine Anorak's Jamie Goode explains in an excellent article, actually contributes to the yeast's growth and development, since minimalist winemakers avoid adding sulfur during crush--and sulfur retards the yeast's growth. Ripe grapes also contribute to brett--so the ripe, fruity wine style that many consumers favor also contributes to the incidence of brett with its higher pH levels.

Brett's in the air of the blogosphere these days, and when I opened up my bottle of beaujolais recently it was in my kitchen, too! This past fall I picked up some Beaujolais wine made from gamay grapes by Pierre-Marie Chermette. Chermette is one of those minimalist wine-makers we all like to support, and it's my suspicion that his no-sulphur practices enabled a hint of brett to get into his 2005 Domaine du Vissoux "Les Garants" Fleurie ($16.95, Chronicle Wine Cellar; available through other merchants for under $20). It had the bright ruby color characteristic of gamay wines with pronounced aromas of black cherry and some alcoholic heat burned in the nose. Flavors of black cherry and some mint and herbs were tasted first, and then a bit of barnyardy, bretty funk caught in your throat at the end. For me, it always smells like sweaty saddle leather, but your perception as always might differ. There was a slightly bitter finish, too. While the brett in this gamay certainly did make it more complex, I felt it had a bit of a disjointed sensation, with the flavors almost clashing at times in the drinking experience rather than complementing each other. We had this wine with some steak sandwiches from Cooking Light made with flank steak, sauteed onions, and a tangy, savory, and simple homemade barbeque sauce. Accompanied by coleslaw (which has its own funkiness), the flavors of the wine--even the brett--were really brought out and it made for a good food and wine pairing.

This wine represented good QPR with its funky flavor profile and complexity. I still preferred the fruity, juicy, and cheaper bottling I reviewed in my very first post here on the blog back in October. But if you want to bring the funk to your dinner table, here's a way to do that is far more affordable than a pricey burgundy!


Andrew said...

describe 'funky'

Dr. Debs said...

Good to see you over here, Andrew. Well, I tried to describe it in the review: "a bit of barnyardy, bretty funk caught in your throat at the end. For me, it always smells like sweaty saddle leather, but your perception as always might differ." Kind of like a horsebarn with a sweaty horse and lots of manure. It wasn't overpowering, but it was definitely there, along with the fruit aromas and flavors. Not unpleasant, but there. Does that help?

thomas said...

I really like your blog, Thanks for adding a link to The Blog Wine Cellar, I work hard make make a half way decent blog with wine reviews. I work for a retail wine shop and and also full-time for a wine whole-saler which leaves me just enough time to write my blog and share some of the wines I'm tasting on a day to day. It's good to see fellow cork dorks doing the same and bringing much needed recommendations and light to all those who partake of the special juice. Keep up the goods mate!

Dr. Debs said...

Welcome, Thomas! I was just on your blog yesterday checking up on your second tasting of that Flowers chardonnay. Thank you for the kind words, and I like your blog, too--which is why it's in the sidebar! I know what you mean about blogging in between all the rest of the stuff most of us do in a given day, but I'm grateful to all the wine bloggers like you who choose to do it. If blogging goes entirely corporate we loose all the gains we've made in terms of adding new voices to the wine conversation in this country. Take care, and keep blogging! See you back here soon, or over on your site.