Savoring the Green

I had a very interesting wine this weekend that, happily, made me think.

It was a "Sonoma County Merlot. Vintage 2003. Price: $32.00. It was a wine that stood out for one main reason: It had noticeable "herbal" qualities in the nose that was followed up by the same slightly "green" character on the palate.

These days there seems to be very few rules in the winemaking business. But there is one steadfast rule: AVOID GREEN HINTS IN YOUR WINE LIKE YOU WOULD AVOID THE PLAGUE….and for the same reasons. It can kill you…or at least a brand.

I’m not exactly sure how this anti-green rule came to reign. Maybe it has something to do with all those VERY green and herbally cabernets that were once produced in the Monterey area some time ago and that led to great disappointment in the potential for that region (of course they overcame that disappointment and the herbal/tomatoey character of those earlier wines).

Maybe the anti-green rule is simple the result of powerful critics criticizing this character in a wine.

Maybe the anti-green rule is merely a reflection of the domination of the American sweet tooth.

I’m not sure why winemakers must expunge any hint of ‘green" or herbal character from their wine, but there is no question that this character is undesirable.

I happen to like it. Not as a primary characteristic, but as part of a mix of character in a wine. I recall when  there was a "grassy" style of Sauvignon Blanc often coming out of the Dry Creek Valley region. It was thought by many at the time that this was a part of the Dry Creek Valley terroir expressing itself through the Sauvignon Blanc grape. You find this character in  DCV SB far less often these days. SB is supposed to be tropical!

If I was in the mood for a Monday Morning Rant, I might be inclined to suggest that many of us who criticize over saturated and over extracted and over alcoholic wines these days are actually criticizing a lack of complexity in too many CA wines. But it’s Monday and I’m not sure a rant is in order.

Suffice to say, I got a kick out of sticking my nose into a glass of blueberry, sage and mocha Merlot. There was a lot more to think about, to appreciate, to savor.

5 Responses

  1. johng - February 5, 2007

    For me:
    Green herbs 🙂
    Green vegetables 😛

  2. Mark Fisher - February 5, 2007

    Hint of sage against a backdrop of blueberry and mocha? I’m all for it.
    Aggressive aromas of green peppers (I’m thinking of long-ago Monterey cabs) in a lean, acidic and charmless wine? I’ll pass.
    The wine-trend pendulum does tend to overcorrect before finding its balance, doesn’t it? And you’re right on about the sauvignon blancs — I miss that herbal character, which in small doses gives the wine some varietal distinction. If I wanted a chardonnay, I’d buy a damn chardonnay!
    Wait, no rants on Monday. I take it back.

  3. Jerry Murray - February 5, 2007

    Herbaceous characters can also be found in ripe fruit if a winemaker employs ‘whole cluster’ fermentations. Some barrels can also impart ‘green’ characters. I agree, herbaceous notes AS PART OF A LARGER AROMATIC AND FLAVOR PROFILE can be an exciting thing. These characters can integrate and evolve with bottle age into the classic ‘forest floor’ character. The scarcity of this style, I think, is the result of how difficult it is to pull it off well. A winemaker must KNOW his vineyards and pick at just the right time; too soon you lack fruit, too late and you miss the herbaceous sweet spot.

  4. Joe - February 5, 2007

    Thanks Jerry, I agree there is a fine balance between aggressive green peppers and a desirable herbal ‘character’. When it is done right, I usually find that in a Bordeaux, but I am finding that more and more in some better Chileans. The Aussies and Californians have nearly (not all) expunged that ‘character’.

  5. Brian Milelr - February 6, 2007

    I love green! There’s a Carneros Merlot I like that verges on bitter, but I still like it (Adastra)
    I don’t necessarily like raw bell pepper in my cabs, although I had an Argentine cab that had a lot of bell pepper on the nose (but less on the palette).

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