Wine drinkers deserve a stable product.
Most winemakers do their best to ensure that their wines are stable when they're bottled. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose if they knowingly bottle a wine that still has active microbes that could lead to something along the lines of brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast known to cause funky barnyard aromas.
Nonetheless, problems can crop up once a wine is in bottle. They often do. The subject came up in my blog earlier this week when I tasted a 20-wine vertical of Peter Michael's Cabernet-based Les Pavots bottlings. A reader asked whether it's possible that residual sugar in a wine—specifically the types of sugars that are still fermentable and could provide a food source for microbes—might be the cause of brett in some of the Les Pavots bottlings, but I don't think it's likely.
Most table wines are bottled dry. A wine can legally be considered dry with 1 gram of sugar or less per liter. But it's rare that a winemaker would knowingly leave a trace of sugar in a premium red wine, according to ETS Laboratories in St. Helena, which tests thousands of wines each year for a host of potential problems (you can read the lists of winemaker concerns on ETS' website). Moreover, even wines that are totally dry can easily develop brett. Very simply, Brett Rules. It is perhaps wine's greatest enemy.
It's a popular myth that California wines are sweet, as in having residual sugar. A few are. But most don't contain fermentable sugars, simply because no winemaker would knowingly bottle a wine prone to developing spoilage issues. Wineries with wines that do have potential problems are advised to filter their wines for greater stabilization. High alcohol wines do give the impression of sweetness, but not because of sugar.
I can say this about brett. I've never met a winemaker or been in a winery where brett hasn't been an issue at one time or another. Brett is everywhere. Winemakers do their best to control it and some may leave a trace in their wines if they feel it adds complexity, but sugar isn't the major culprit.
Mike Officer — Santa Rosa, CA — April 8, 2011 9:12pm ET
Andrew J Grotto — Washington, DC — April 9, 2011 5:35pm ET
Adriana Diakiw — La Jolla, CA — April 11, 2011 12:36am ET
Jon Bjork — Lodi, CA USA — April 11, 2011 1:36am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 11, 2011 12:36pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 11, 2011 12:40pm ET
Andrew J Grotto — Washington, DC — April 11, 2011 2:37pm ET
Michael Yeager — NRH Texas — April 11, 2011 3:30pm ET
Harvey Posert — Napa Valley CA — April 11, 2011 4:31pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 11, 2011 4:58pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 11, 2011 5:01pm ET
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