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Do sommeliers reject on your behalf?


vmilor
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My wife likes to torment me with difficult questions. She knows I think very highly of the institution of "sommelier" and asked me this question. Do sommeliers ever reject a bottle after they sniff and sometimes taste it? I have never seen this happening, except once at Faugerion in Paris. Yet I have never seen a sommelier taking issue with me if I found serious fault in a bottle(i.e oxidation, or corked ). At the same time I have the impression that had I not been able to detect these problems( as would have been the case 15 years ago), most sommeliers would not have alerted me. I am not talking about things like brett, volatile acidity, etc., that only more experienced tasters can detect, but outright faults. What is your experience?

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I have had sommelier's reject wines, but only very rarely. If I were to find that a wine that had been approved had serious flaws, I would question the sommelier as to why he didn't reject it and very probably indicate strong diispleasure as to his job performance. I would also not permit him to taste the replacement bottle, after all, it would be like throwing away an extra bit of wine for no purpose.

When I order an older bottle of wine, I do try to examine condition before allowing the sommelier to open it. That is, I ask to have the bottle stood on the table in order to look at ullage, condition of the capsule, position of the cork, signs of seepage, etc. If I have any doubts, I send it back.

Brett, however, would not be a reason to reject the wine, as in many cases with French wines, even some very high end wines, it has been added intentionally by the winemaker. What you think of this practice is another question entirely.

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Do sommeliers ever reject a bottle after they sniff and sometimes taste it? I have never seen this happening, except once at Faugerion in Paris.

yes. you may not see it on many occassions because they are tasting the wine out of your sight. they save many people from the displeasure of having to reject a wine. or of drinking a tainted wine because they weren't able to detect TCA, etc.

i don't think brett is a fault, by definition; just to touch on your other point. it is cultivated by some winemakers for stylistic reasons, and many question those intentions.

many love the brett in '83 beaucastel, for example. others don't. but you shouldn't expect a sommelier to identify the characteristic as a fault for you.

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I've had a sommelier reject a wine at Veritas.

In most other places in this country that I eat at, there's no opportunity for the sommelier to reject the wine because the bottle is opened and promptly poured in front of you.

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Brett, however, would not be a reason to reject the wine, as in many cases with French wines, even some very high end wines, it has been added intentionally by the winemaker.

I have never heard of a winemaker adding brett to a wine! Sometimes it is just there and a small amount may (MAY!) add some note of complexity to a wine but it does not take much to go over the top- but I can't believe anyone would add it who doesn't have it. Please see the information below. Certainly an excess of brett aromas are a reason to reject wines because often they reflect poor winemaking.

"Barnyard, horse sweat, Band-aid, burnt plastic, wet animal, wet leather: all

have been used to describe an aroma or flavor characteristics in some wines

deemed "Bretty". The organisms cited for the production of this character

are the yeasts of the genus Brettanomyces and Dekkera. In the literature, 4-

ethyl phenol and 4-ethyl guaicol are the identified volatile phenolic

compounds associated with this off-odor in wine. Included in this report is

a review of "Brett" flavor and results from our recent study on wines

identified by their respective wine makers as having "Brett" character . In

wines with "Brett" character, sensory profiles showed an increase in plastic

odors and a decrease in fruit odors."

"Fugelsang (55) stated that wood cooperage is the most frequently cited source of

Brettanomyces within the winery. In 1990, Van de Water (The Wine Lab, Napa,

California) reported that in hundreds of wineries from across the United States,

Brettanomyces infection within a winery could be traced to purchased wooden cooperage

used previously for red and infrequently for white wine production (45). Even new barrels

are suspected of having a stimulatory effect on the growth of Brettanomyces: some of the

species can assimulate cellobiose and thrive on these fragments of cellulose in new barrels

(56). Wineries are encouraged by some enologists in the United States to destroy

Brettanomyces-infected barrels to avoid further contamination within the winery (56, 57).

From What is "Brett" (Brettanomyces) Flavor?

A Preliminary Investigation

J. L. Licker, T. E. Acree, and T. Henick-Kling,

Cornell University,

Department of Food Science & Technology,

New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva, NY, 14456

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Brett, however, would not be a reason to reject the wine, as in many cases with French wines, even some very high end wines, it has been added intentionally by the winemaker.

What? I realize that we come to expect it from certain regions (Southern Rhone, provence, Languedoc-Roussilon), but I have never heard of winemakers actively adding it. Beaucastel used to be known for it (sort of), but did they add it?

I have a hard time believing that, most winemakers consider it a serious flaw.

Now, I, on the otherhand, like some funk in my wine. :cool:

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Certainly an excess of brett aromas are a reason to reject wines because often they reflect poor winemaking.

i won't argue per se with your extensively quoted scientific substantiation re: brettanomyces (pardon what i think is an incorrect spelling of the word). however, i know at least one major institution in carneros pinot who says that he's toyed around with it (he told me himself), and i took it to mean he was referring to the cultivation of the bacteria; which, like others, can be cultivated.

i don't necessarily agree, again, with the assessment that brett is a fault. in fact, i think the statement excerpted above is quite subjective and judgemental. have you ever tasted '83 beaucastel (again, i return to this wine as an example of brett at its pinnacle)? it is naturally occurring, and has been for a very, very long time. i assume there are some of you who would chalk it up to a "dirty barrel", but i think that's a subjective call. it's become a perception of "style" to some in the new world, and a result it is being copied. i'll try to get more specific soon, but perhaps marcus can chime in, he making a similar claim with regards to the intentional cultivation of brettanymyces.

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you can argue that brett has been romanticized but you can't argue with the fact that more than a few people like its profile. so by calling it a fault would you expect a sommelier to hold back the bottle & open another because a natural yeast had evolved in the wine after fermentation? well then she wouldn't be able to serve you the vintage you had ordered, would she, because in most cases brett has "infected" all of the wine from a certain vintage. so are you going to call a whole vintage flawed?

edited to add: and besides, i perceive the use of new oak as a flaw in california chardonnay. i don't think it's supposed to be there. so there.

Edited by Robert Nesta Marley (log)
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You guys never lived in Berkeley. Many Domain Tempier Bandols of the past had ample quantities of brett aromas, but somehow, due to a great marketing effort by the importer, most consumers think they are experiencing real terroir!

What about the volatile acidity? Do you guy consider it to be a flaw? Can all sommeliers detect it? Personally, I am on more shaky grounds here than brett. I only remember one incident where an Hermitage Chapelle from Jaboulet was quite suspect, but the wine had some qualities and I did not return it. I offered the wine to the sommelier, and he liked it.

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Picky, picky with those words. I'm pretty happy calling it a flaw if it isn't *supposed* to be there. New oak is supposed to be there because the winemaker *adds* the flavor to the wine after its made. Nobody adds brett to their wine. But you might like brett and not like new oak in your wine. But those are preferences, not evaluations.

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Picky, picky with those words. I'm pretty happy calling it a flaw if it isn't *supposed* to be there. New oak is supposed to be there because the winemaker *adds* the flavor to the wine after its made. Nobody adds brett to their wine. But you might like brett and not like new oak in your wine. But those are preferences, not evaluations.

precisely one of the initial contentions on this thread. brett is being cultivated now, deliberately . it may not be in the form of chips, but it's being done with intention. so are you saying that because something is imposed with intention during vinification it is not a flaw, but rather a non-/preference?

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You can't cultivate brett that I know of. You just don't clean your barrels (yuck) and hope it forms. And if you do have it, it's almost impossible to control. Madame Bize Leroy seems to have a handle on how to impart a slight dose of it in her wines. Maybe she has a few brett infected barrels that she uses. So in that instance I guess you would be correct. But that is different from having your cellar infected with brett. Beaucastel reportedly had to have their entire cellar cleaned after the 1988 vintage because the wine was too bretty. Now the wines are squeaky clean tasting. Much better by the way if you ask me.

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When I started seriously tasting wines in the 70’s we would go to tastings of Burgundies and Baroli and the importers would stand up there and argue that these weird, stinky wines were actually complex and showing terroir. Terroir was the code word that would explain all the foul aromas and flavors in these wines. The implication was clear – if you did not like all that funk – you just did not understand.

Then I was fortunate to be able to make multiple trips to Burgundy in the early 80’s and taste seriously under the guidance of Becky Wasserman and Dominque Lafon – I can’t think of better teachers. With them I tasted real terroir – not that funky, foul crap they were trying to sell as Burgundy in the United States. Terroir is complexity from the vineyard and microclimate where the vine is grown. The faults produced by brett hide the true flavors of terroir. The wines Becky showed me not only sang with the complexity of their terroir, but with the beauty and purity of their fruit.

Today wines loaded with brett and dekkera are recognized as faulted wines the world over. This is not to argue that wines have to be squeaky clean like most California and Australian wines. However, any wines that have obvious aromas of brett or dekkera are faulted and should be returned as you would any faulted wine. Certainly there are wineries where very low levels of dekkera and brett exist and add to the overall complexity of the wine, but these wineries are few and the exception not the rule. I believe that even these wineries would prefer to be brett and dekkera free,but these yeast strains become part of the milieu of yeasts in the winery and you cannot get rid of them without getting rid of the beneficial natural yeasts that have become essential to producing a particular style of wine.

Beaucastel spent all that money for good reason. Even they did not think the wine was better with all that brett in it.

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these yeast strains become part of the milieu of yeasts in the winery and you cannot get rid of them without getting rid of the  beneficial natural yeasts that have become essential to producing a particular style of wine.

Beaucastel spent all that money for good reason. Even they did not think the wine was better with all that brett in it.

Ducru Beaucaillou had this problem (that is why the 1990 vintage was not that great) and they rebuilt their cellar. This is quite common knowledge, but what isn't so well publicised is that Latour had the same problem.

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Today wines loaded with brett and dekkera are recognized as faulted wines the world over. This is not to argue that wines have to be squeaky clean like most California and Australian wines. However, any wines that have obvious aromas of brett or dekkera are faulted and should be returned as you would any faulted wine. Certainly there are wineries where very low levels of dekkera and brett exist and add to the overall complexity of the wine, but these wineries are few and the exception not the rule. I believe that even these wineries would prefer to be brett and dekkera free,but these yeast strains become part of the milieu of yeasts in the winery and you cannot get rid of them without getting rid of the  beneficial natural yeasts that have become essential to producing a particular style of wine.

Beaucastel spent all that money for good reason. Even they did not think the wine was better with all that brett in it.

I'm not one to argue with Becky Wasserman--or her son, for that matter... :wub:

but a brett alert:

with regards to yeast strains becoming part of the "milieu" of yeasts in a winery.....there's more than a trace of brettanomyces in tardieu-laurent's '97 hermitage (which took 5 minutes to make themselves known). what do you make of that in this quasi-negociant bottling? has anyone witnessed their elevage ?

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Beaucastel reportedly had to have their entire cellar cleaned after the 1988 vintage because the wine was too bretty. Now the wines are squeaky clean tasting. Much better by the way if you ask me.

I'm with you on the taste of recent vintages.

But how in the world could they have altered the cellar after the '88, when the '90 BC and Coudoulet are the Platonic ideals of stinky wine?

Bob,

I think the controversy about Brett in Beaucastel and Tempier is particularly heated because they used to deny its presence.

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first of all, the term "brettanomyces" is not meant to be capitalized. (i am, of course, imposing certain personal philosophical theory here.) anyway, "brett" can certainly be perceived---way perceived---through wood, from most of my experiences with the yeast, Joe, which, thank you, has the ability to be cultivated, as per a certain perspective. good brett (yes, subjective, i know) upstages even tardieu-laurent's goods, which i commented upon somewhere else here. perhaps not to everyone, especially not to critics of dominique laurent's work..... :shock:

have i made any sense? or has tommy tarnished my technical sensibilities for the time being..... :laugh:

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Bob,

I think the controversy about Brett in Beaucastel and Tempier is particularly heated because they used to deny its presence.

joe,

yes, in dom. tempier's case it was a bit hilarious, no, the denial? but that's, what, a way inexpensive wine, on average......

but at beaucastel it was charming (no; i'm not one to glorify). i'm not sure about the explicit "denial" there, beyond what you mean by the "cleaning" etc communicated to people. i, if you don't already know, have mixed personal feelings with regards to what happened in '88.

Edited by Robert Nesta Marley (log)
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Back to the original question . . .

Once, at Gramercy Tavern, the sommelier alerted me that the wine was a bit oxidized. He said that he would of course take it back, but allowed me to taste it (1) for educational purposes, and (2) because he said that the flavor was interesting and we might want to keep it. The flavor was interesting -- perhaps distinctive would be the better term -- and we sent it back.

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I think it is correct and part of the sommeliers job to reject a corked bottle of wine and bring a new bottle. After all, corked bottles are not part of a wine making decision, but are the failure of the packaging system. Far too many corked bottles are consumed by people who do not recognize them as corked - they just think that producer makes bad wines. Returns of corked bottles by restaurants to wholesalers are far below even the most conservative estimates of the number bottles likely to be corked – that means those wines are being drunk. How often have you ordered a wine by the glass only to find it badly corked and the bottle mostly gone? Someone from the restaurant should have tasted and rejected that bottle before serving it. The chef rejects (hopefully) foul smelling fish or meat, why should the sommelier not reject faulted wine?

For other faults like Brett, apparently beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the customer must decide.

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