What's up with that "barnyard" smell in some wines?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is there a better way of describing that barnyard smell in wines? Calling it "barnyard" is not attractive, is it? Also, does it indicate that the wine is developing well, or has it already matured?

—Laila R., Toronto

Dear Laila,

That's funny, I thought "barnyard" was the most attractive way to describe that note! Brettanomyces, or "brett," is a spoilage yeast with aromatic elements that are politely described as "barnyard." Other common terms to describe this element are "cow-pie," "horse stable" and "Band-Aid." Believe it or not, some people enjoy a touch of brett—at low levels, it can add a spicy, leathery note to wines. By itself, it says nothing about a wine's age; I've smelled brett in young and old wines alike. However, as a wine matures and its fruit notes fade, brett may become more prominent than in the wine's youth.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What is the benefit of “keeping wine on the dregs”?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what a wine's "dregs" are and why some wines …

Jan 30, 2023

How do you soften a hard cork?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens after a wine bottle is opened, and …

Jan 24, 2023

How long can Champagne be stored in a wine cooler?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens as sparkling wine ages, how long it …

Jan 17, 2023

I shook a bottle of wine with sediment and now it's cloudy. Is it ruined?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where sediment comes from, and what to do if …

Jan 9, 2023

Can a cork-tainted bottle of wine cross-contaminate other bottles in my cellar?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how and when cork taint or TCA contamination …

Jan 3, 2023

Dr. Vinny’s Wine Care Clinic: Top Tips for Safekeeping Your Wine Bottles

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny answers all your wine storage and serving questions!

Dec 27, 2022