In your wine bottle, the scent of a mouse
by Cody (beverage specialist)
Mouse! What does this word “mouse” really mean to the wine drinking community? No one really knows. It is most likely lactic bacteria and yeast spoilage. Mouse is often considered a flaw or a fault, but to some it’s just part of “hands-off” winemaking. A lot of aromas can come from this approach to winemaking.
For example, barnyard, horse sweat or iodine. That is not mouse. That is Brettanomyces-a strain of yeast strong enough to start fermentation but too weak to finish it. Though spoiled Brett yeast could be a contributing factor. The fact is, if you’ve never exposed your palate to mouse your nose may never detect it. This has always, I feel, led to confusion for new people getting into natural wine. Similarly, the term “corked” is often used to describe a wine a consumer simply doesn’t like. This might be because the wine is too dry, too acidic or myriad of reasons. But after you smell and taste a “corked” wine tainted with TCA (Tricholoanisole) you’ll never forget.
The same goes with mouse. Especially because, more-often-than-not, mouse blooms. It gets stronger and stronger and takes the wine over.
This is where Sulphur Dioxide comes into play. SO2 is used to stabilize wines (not to be confused with powdered Sulphur sprinkled on vines to prevent powdery mildew). That is not to say a wine can’t be stable without SO2. Chad Stock (formerly of Craft Minimus) believes PH levels keep mouse in check. Recently I tasted a wine wherein the producer used Cabernet Sauvignon to control perceived mouse. It totally worked. Only a small percentage as well. Crazy how little of a component can change things in wine.
Mouse. Fault or flaw?
The argument with mouse is; is it fault of flaw? A flaw is something uncommon and unique showing in the wine but isn’t steering away from its true qualities of terroir or varietal.
Fault is pretty much the opposite; the amount of unnatural uniqueness overpowers what should be showing. Where there is no argument, mouse is the result of a certain philosophy regarding winemaking techniques. So it can be both, where it begins as a flaw and becomes a fault.
These wines are hinting at "mouse".
The initial notes are hard salami skin, Fritos or cornchips.
Next time you feel adventurous and want to dabble in the funky and weird just keep all of this in mind because it is useful to understand that wines, especially certain wines, can be unpredictable.
It’s impossible to say whether-or-not a wine will have mouse. Even if it had in the past. Some wines go through phases. An advocate of natural wines once said, “you can’t have it both ways.” Bon Appetit offers some additional information on their "Beginner's guide to wine faults and flaws"
These wines are natural but stable.
Coming up! Notes on Volatile Acidity and it’s brilliance with food! Just one more thing for you to discover in your next bottle!