Top 10 ludicrous but true wine descriptors

8 – Manure

(GERMANY OUT) Pferdemist, Pferdeaepfel - Symbolbild zum Thema Mist (Photo by Ilona Studre/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The wine writer Anthony Hanson MW wrote bluntly in his book Burgundy that “Great Burgundy smells of shit” (Voltaire is credited with saying something very similar).

This, you might think, would be the very last thing you would want a wine to smell of. But not so, the distinctly manurey smell of some mature Burgundy can send certain wine aficionados into raptures – much the same as would a stinky Epoisses cheese.

This aroma is not without controversy, however. It’s widely agreed that the manurey aroma in Burgundy – or any other red wine – is the result of infection from a single-celled organism called brettanomyces (aka brett). The specific compound in this case is thought to be 4-ethylphenol, or 4EP, which can also produce aromas of sticking plasters.

Many great wines from Burgundy to Bordeaux to the Rhone, to Piedmont and beyond are swimming with brett. Some people love it, others hate it. The winemakers, understandably stay out of it, more often that not muttering something about terroir before changing the subject.

3 Responses to “Top 10 ludicrous but true wine descriptors”

  1. Anthony Rose says:

    This comment was deleted from the revised version as Anthony Hanson realised that what he’d been describing was brett and so, not surprisingly didn’t want to perpetuate the misleading association. Much the same occurred in Australia when luminaries such as James Halliday discovered that the leathery character of Hunter Valley Shiraz previously described as ‘sweaty saddles’ was in fact closer to blazing saddles than umami.

  2. Rita Erlich says:

    Thanks for all of that. But I’d question one thing, under point 10 : horsiness is not really the same as horse manure. Horsiness is the smell of clean horses, animal, but not manure. It’s a smell that also appears in violets. Some violets (not all) have horsy notes, so do some black truffles. I’d love to know what the chemical compound is.

  3. Pamela says:

    Of note, the term on slide 6 should be ‘Foxy’, not Foxes. Its a wild, musky odor that is prevalent in varieties like Concord. I think ‘Foxy’ fits the smell well 😉

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