Remember my post on Bluffing your way through wine tasting? Well this follows on from that just a tad. Basically when your palate and other senses are developed a little better you’ll occasionally come across the smell of horse hair in your red wine (sometimes transfers over to Chardonnay but usually red wine). Now this is nothing unusual, and won’t do you any harm… but it is caused by Brettanomyces (pronounced Bre-tan-no-my-seas this will come in handy later when we talk about the wine tasting). OK so skip ahead at any stage if this gets boring- but essentially its from a strain of yeast called saccharomycetaceae… and basically this strain does particularly well where there is a lot of carbohydrate! Which would explain why it was first discovered way back in 1904 in the Carlsberg Brewery (probably weren’t the best beer in the world back then) by a guy who was trying to get to figure out why a load of British ales kept spoiling- the name brettanomyces actually comes from the Latin British Fungus!
Now there is some debate whether or not its the worst thing in the world, because a number of wine producers around the world actually allow a little bit of it in their wine production- and even some Belgian beer producers use brettanomyces as their only yeast! But its a very difficult thing to control- its grand if you’re Belgian, making beer, and want to only use this particular yeast… But if you’re a wine producer, making wine, and want to give your wine some complexity… then a yeast that makes your wine smell like Horse Hair might not be the best option.
As far as the experts think it most likely gets into vineyards through fruit flies, and makes itself at home in the oak barrel’s. But once it gets in its pretty difficult to get out, and it is thought to be a pretty big indication of uncleanliness in the vineyard! Now there are certain things that will help stop the spread of this yeast- cleanliness being number 1, but the addition of…. Sulphur Dioxide! will also help stop it! Yes Yes those poor poor sulphites doing so much to help our enjoyment of wine and they get such a bad wrap for it too!
So next wine tasting you’re at- sniff the glass, go through the motions just like we talked about a week ago, and if you smell horse hair (it’ll be pretty slight at the start)  you announce it to the group- like you’d announce the fact that the dog peed on the carpet (kinda annoyed but you know blaming the dog isn’t really the solution)- then if someone questions you, you simply poor out the rest of your wine refill the glass with some water, poor that out, and then sniff it again and that horse hair smell will be much more pronounced!