This goes back to my post on the 2011 vintage last year but it seems like the characteristics of that vintage have popped up quite a bit over the last few weeks. I have a feeling I’m going to get some push back on this one… but… whatever. Let’s do this!
I am here to say that if you find a red wine with a “green” characteristic that it isn’t necessarily flawed. That said it could be the result of potentially poor winemaking decisions and vintage variation. I will admit that 2011 was cooler and pretty damp but to hate on it just because there is a little “green” in there is bad mmmmkay.
So let’s explore the inherent characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon (since that is Napa’s cash cow) which include methoxypyrazines (MPs). There is an aromatic organic compound that manifest in Cabernet Sauvignon, among other varietals, which provide those green characteristics. At their worst think of that really intense fresh green bell pepper or jalepeño thing. In other scenarios they might not be present at all or in very small quantities that make them nearly impossible to pick up. The key, as always when it comes to winemaking, is balance.
You probably don’t want to harvest too early otherwise you might find more of those MPs than you really wanted. If it is a really cool year you might also have some of those MPs hanging around as well because the grapes aren’t reaching physiological maturity (or are taking a very long time to do so). A large issue is that these MPs are pretty potent so just a little bit can make a big difference. For more info you can check out this link to Wines & Vines. Frankly there is just too much to get through without getting really geeky.
Long story short it is all about managing them in the vineyard because doing so in the cellar is really tough and can alter other aspects of the wine you are working with.
As a winemaker you have to make that call of when fruit comes in which should be, in theory, based on taste and overall maturity of the fruit that is out in the vineyard. So take a cooler year, 2011 for example. You have these MPs hanging about and there isn’t a whole lot of time left in the growing season. What do you do? Well, you try and let the fruit mature as long as possible so the number of MPs decrease, unfortunately cooler years aren’t great at providing good circumstance for the fruit to mature. As a result you end up with some of those MPs, hopefully in smaller quantities, hanging around.
No doubt there are some wines out there that have that green-ish twinge to them but sort of like Brettanomyces (Brett) a little bit isn’t the worst thing in the world, it is just really REALLY hard to have just a little bit of it. It might take a bit more work sorting through the 2011 vintage and you will probably find some wines that have a touch of that tobacco, cigar box, bay leaf, bell pepper, jalepeño thing going on. The cool thing I have found thus far is that even when some of those characteristics are present they are integrated nicely and add a layer of complexity; they haven’t ruined a wine for me yet.
Please keep in mind this is a pretty decent generalization since every vineyard site is different from the next even if they are very close to one another; as many are in Napa. There are plenty of wines out there that aren’t green, in the flawed sense of the term, at all.
So I am going to stick by my statement: 2011 is going to be the most underrated vintage of this decade. Which is fine because if you won’t drink those wines I sure as hell will.