I like a little bret in my wines, and I know many detest it. I have found most of these wines were quite old. Is bret in wines only synonymous with a wine (red) being older, or are there younger wines (perhaps "natural" wines) that have that barnyard character?
Answer From Expert Roger Bohmrich MW
A fascinating question! Brett is shorthand for Brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast. Tasters differ in their sensitivity to Brett - as with so many sensory attributes -which may be perceived as the putrid odor of a barnyard or generally more appealing leathery smells. You are certainly on target when you say that there seems to be more evident Brett in older red wines. Anyone who has tasted decades-old vintages from Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhône has encountered the smell of Brett and has probably developed a degree of tolerance. In small doses, it may add complexity to the bouquet (the same is true of volatile acidity). Cellars are far more hygienic today than in times past, and barrels are either replaced more often or properly cleaned between uses. Brett has not gone away, but greater awareness has made winemakers more vigilant. Brett lives in the cellar and infects the wine at an early stage. Once bottled, a tainted wine is unlikely to become "clean" even after years of cellaring. As to your last point, any less rigorous winemaking regime - "natural" or other - could indeed lead to contamination in many forms, Brett included.