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

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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

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