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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I recently had a Mourvèdre that smelled very “gamy,” almost like urine. The server assured me it was “earthy.” Why is that?

—Nicole B., Grover Beach, Calif.

Dear Nicole,

All grapes taste a little different from each other, and so do the wines made from them. Mourvèdre just happens to makes wines that tend to taste a little gamy, just as Sauvignon Blanc makes wines with citrusy flavors. I like that gamy note in Mourvèdre, as long as it’s in balance with the wine’s other factors and not too overwhelming.

What is “gamy”? Unlike descriptors like “strawberries” or “plums,” which are pretty well defined, “gamy” can refer to a few different nuances. I think it most often refers to a savory, meaty, almost bloody note that can be picked up in wild game, like venison or duck. I often see it mentioned hand-in-hand with other notes like “minerally” or “earthy,” as your server said. It’s an organic note that’s neither fruity, spicy, floral nor woodsy. I can see how two people can each pick it out and describe it differently depending on their experiences.

I should also point out that you might be picking up on a note of brettanomyces, the spoilage yeast also known as “brett.” Brett can impart a horsy, sweaty-saddle or barnyard note to a wine that I sometimes see referred to as “gamy.” Some people don’t mind (or even actually like) a touch of brett, but others are put off by even a hint of it.

—Dr. Vinny

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