Is it dangerous to drink wines with high levels of brettanomyces?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I've heard brettanomyces referred to as a "spoilage yeast." Does that mean it's dangerous to drink wines with a lot of brett?

—Pam, Covington, La.

Dear Pam,

Brettanomyces is a type of yeast that can sometimes show up in wine and beer, and it can cause some pretty funky aromas (barnyard, leather, sweat) when it runs wild. Brett can develop at practically any stage of wine production—it can be on the grapes themselves, it can be hanging out in a winery, and it can hide in the barrels. And at elevated levels it is definitely a wine flaw.

However, some people like a little barnyard funk in their wine and, in small amounts, brett can add complexity. In fact, in the beer world, the development of brettanomyces is even encouraged in some styles, especially sour beers. But you're right that brettanomyces is often referred to as a "spoilage yeast." That isn't because wine that has been tainted by brettanomyces is "spoiled" in the sense that it has gone rotten and unfit for consumption; rather, it is just a reference to the fact that the wine's potential bright fruit flavors and aromas have been "spoiled" by the musty, funky aromas of brett. But it's perfectly safe to drink!

—Dr. Vinny

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