Is the Brett Experience Gender Specific?

I brought a 2014 Larrivet Haut-Brion Passac-Léognan Bordeaux to wine group today. It had been a few years since I’ve tasted this wine, but I remember it being very earthy.

“I smell horse blanket,” said a male in the group.

“Yeah, it smells funky,” said the other male in the group.

“I get tobacco,” said the other female.

“I get wet coffee grounds,” I interjected.

We were all smelling and tasting Brettanomyces, but we all experienced it a little differently. The females in the group liked it. We agreed it gave the wine a nice earthy flavor. The males in the group, not so much.

It reminded me of a Bordeaux seminar I attended at a Society of Wine Educators Conference a few years ago. There we tasted through several Bordeaux A few had Brettanomyces or Brett on them. In a room of about 40 people, it seemed almost all the men smelled barnyard, horse blanket or horse’s rear end. But we women tasted an earthy savoriness like wet coffee grounds, compost, or tobacco. We liked how the savory note gave the wine an added dimension.

I hate to generalize especially at the risk of sounding sexist, but it seems to me that in general, men and women experience Brettanomyces very differently. To test my theory, I brought the wine home to see how my husband, a male, would react to the Brett. He didn’t like it. He decidedly got horse blanket, rear end even. But I thought the faint hint of wet coffee grounds was perfect with the dried herbs, tart red fruit, and potpourri flavors in the wine. And it all went beautifully with braised short ribs.

How do you experience Brettanomyces in wine? Do you get horse blanket or coffee grounds? Do you like it? And is my gender theory correct?

Friends, Wine and Nuance

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other night, six friends came over for a wine tasting, friends found through different aspects of my life, some through the ritual of church, some through the shared experience of raising children. We are all at different points in our lives, working part time or full time or home with the kids. The evening’s conversation flowed with humor, rolled along with reflection and intellectual curiosity, never stalling, but lingering at times as it changed direction, filtering through our different perspectives.

We compared two French blends, one a Bordeaux, Chateau de Macard, 2009, the other a southern Rhone, Ortas Rasteau, 2007. The Bordeaux blend was 50% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cote du Rhone was 50% Granache, 35% Syrah, and 15% Mouvedre, both from the same country, of the same color, but completely different regions and blends. What would we learn? We were hoping to perceive and understand the nuanced differences of the two blends.

Chateau de Macard, 2009

Chateau de Macard, 2009

Like a lush forest, the Bordeaux drew me in with its aromas of wood and soil. The wine rolled through my mouth with a texture of medium body and crisp acidity hinting at flavors of coffee and sour cherry, lingering for several minutes after the swallow

Ortas, 2007

Ortas, 2007

The Ortas Rasteau was a little lighter, and a little more acidic than the Bordeaux. The wine began with aromas of anise and vanilla continuing along with cherry and just a hint of olive. The tannins were soft and like the Bordeaux, the Rhone lingered after the swallow

La Haite du Fief, 2009

La Haite du Fief, 2009

Our next tasting was comparing two Syrahs, one old world, one new. The Cave de Tain from Crozes-Hermitage opened with a smoky umami aroma, earthy and herbal. This was the heaviest wine of the night, but with good acidity and medium tannins to keep a balanced structure.

Thorn-Clark, Shotfire, 2010

Thorn-Clark, Shotfire, 2010

The new world Syrah was from Barossa, Thorn-Clark, Shotfire, 2010. The aromas said oak, the flavors sour cherry with a citrus quality followed by licorice. It was acidic, lingering in the aftertaste

All four wines were well balanced and given high marks from Wine Spectator. But each one, through its individual aromas and flavors, had a little different story to tell.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Well Blended Elements

Chateau de Barbe Blanche Lussac-Saint-Emilion 2009

I recently went to a Bordeaux wine tasting. We were able to compare and taste right bank vs. left bank Bordeaux. The difference between the Merlot heavy blend compared to the Cabernet Sauvignon heavy blend was what one would expect. But it was interesting to compare the softer fruitier Chateau de Barbe Blanch Lussac-Saint-Emilion to the heftier, more tannic Chateau Langoa Barton Saint-Julien. They were both beautiful wines, and both very well balanced in the four elements of tannins, alcohol, acidity, and fruit. However, the left bank wine’s harsher elements, tannin and acidity, were more firmly expressed. Likewise the right bank’s softer elements of fruit and alcohol came through more clearly.

A good friend recently told me that she’d been accused of being an angry person. Frankly, that’s one of the things I love about her. Anger can be her motivator. It is also an integral part of her wikedly, wonderful sense of humor. There are times when anger is our common bond. When I tell her that someone has been hurtful to my child. I will no longer welcome that person into my home, she understands completely. Anger is a protective force in any mother.

As long as they are in balance, I embrace all the elements of a wine, the soft and the harsh. A combination of different elements is what gives wine structure and makes wine interesting. Harsh elements coupled with soft elements make people interesting, too.

Responding to Terroir

Carmenere Grapes

Merlot Grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes

Three of the Bordeaux grapes can be traced to the same parents.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and Merlot are all genetically related to Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.  All of these grapes grow in Bordeaux.  Yet, their terrior requirements are different.  Merlot, which is prevalent on the right bank of the Dordogne River, grows best in a cool, damp climate.  Clay soil holds in moisture, and Merlot vines do well in it.  Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of the left bank of the Gironde River needs heat and does best in a self-draining, gravel soil.  Carmenere, practically an identical twin to Merlot, has been all but banished from Bordeaux, but she has reappeared, unexpectedly in Chile, where she shuns too much water as well as too much heat.  Though genetically related, each of these grapes needs different soils and climates.


When my son was young and needed to be reprimanded, I very quickly learned that ‘time-out’ had absolutely no effect on him, nor did a scolding.  Molding his behavior was frustrating, until I discovered that taking away a toy as a consequence did have an effect on him.  He responded positively to that negative reinforcement.  My daughter, on the other hand, was unphased when I used the same technique on her.  She found another toy and continued playing uneffected.  However, she did respond positively to time-out.  For whatever reason, sitting in a chair in the kitchen was something she would avoid at all costs. 


Our parenting style is part of our children’s ‘terroir.’  We set the conditions and climates in which they will grow.  Not all children respond the same way to the same conditions.  Just like the grapes that are genetically related, but have different growing needs, so each child responds differently to different environments.  Finding what’s most nurturing for each of our children is one of the great challenges and rewards of parenting.

Discerning Elegance

In my quest to experience Bordeaux wine the way Thomas Jefferson experienced it, the wine that made him fall in love with wine, I’ve tasted a few watery, flavorless Bordeaux, like an Augey that was short on finish and a little too hot; a Les Caves Joseph that had hints of earth and chocolate, but was just too bland and flat or a Chateau Paradis that was too acidic to enjoy. The French are known for their laissez faire approach to wine making. They process as little as possible to let the true flavors of the grape and soil come through. The flavors of their wines are referred to as ‘elegant.’ It is the opposite of the big-flavored wines of the New World.

As an American and a novice wine drinker I unabashedly love the big flavors of a Lodi old vine Zinfandel or Robert Mondovi’s Bordeaux blend, Meritage. These are wines that surround me with their deep, rich berry flavors, and their silky chocolate, earthy finish. My hope is that as my tastes evolve, I will develop a greater appreciation for the elegant, subtle flavors of the old world wines.

One of the most important skills a child needs to develop is something that can’t be taught, and that is the ability to chose friends. It’s a skill that will carry them through life. My daughter seems to be quite taken with big personalities. They are the personalities that will promise to hold the football, and time after time, just like Charlie Brown, my little girl will run to kick it. Oftentimes, these big personality friends turn out to be as manipulative as they are dazzling. She’s still in grade school. As she matures, so will her judgment. She’ll come to appreciate the more subtle, yet genuine and honest personalities of some of her quieter, gentler classmates.

As I make my way through the ‘inexpensive Bordeaux’ aisles of my favorite wine stores, I wonder if the flavorlessness I taste is the French elegance I’ve read about. Or are these just bad examples of Bordeaux? I tend to believe the latter. Haut-Brion from Graves is the Bordeaux that Thomas Jefferson fell in love with. I have never tried it, but have read that it is an earthy wine with chocolate, plum and spice elements. It’s also very expensive. While I save up for a bottle of that, I will continue my search for an affordable, flavorful, yet, elegant Bordeaux. An elegant, balanced, subtle wine can be every bit as interesting and rich as a powerful, big-flavored wine.