jamie goode's wine blog: Greenness, again

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Greenness, again

More on greenness. In the comments, one respondent asked for examples of South African wines that showed this greenness. I can think of three recent reds that illustrate my point. First, wine we had with lunch today, and one that I enjoyed a good deal Ė the Saxenburg Private Selection Shiraz 2001, Stellenbosch. Itís a big, rich, sweetly fruited red with good concentration and some meatiness, but underneath the fruit thereís a distinctive green herbal streak. Iíve noticed this in previous vintages of this wine (the 1998 springs to mind). It doesnít ruin it, but I suspect it would be better without it. The second is the Beyerskloof Synergy 2002: lots of bright berry fruit, good concentration, but a herbal streak, too. Then thereís the Platter five-star Glen Carlou Syrah 2004, which has lots of ripe fruit, some oak, but still detectable underneath all this is the greenness. Again, it doesnít ruin the wine, but I feel it holds it back. This is just off the top of my head; Iím not claiming that this is rock solid evidence to defend my case Ė Iím merely putting forward a theory.

Itís important to remind readers that Iím not putting the boot into South African wine. Greenness in reds is a problem elsewhere Ė look at cheap Bordeaux. Often, though greenness is a problem in cooler climates or where yields are too high. Itís rare to find greenness in high end wines from warmer climates. This is why the leaf roll virus/vine mealybug story seems to make sense here. You have a vineyard with a bit of virus infection. You harvest it at the same time, so you are picking some grapes that are fully ripe with high sugar levels, along with those that havenít reached physiological ripeness and show some green characters. Or, you have endemic virus infection, so you leave the grapes on the vine as long as possible, resulting in high sugar levels (perhaps in part by dessication as well as real ripeness) along with sub-optimal physiological ripeness, also resulting in green herbal characters in the wine. Once in the winery, you can try to mask greenness with new oak, microoxygenation, and sweet fruit and high alcohol from those grapes that are ripe, but it results in wines that are less than totally convincing.



At 6:27 AM, Anonymous keith prothero said...

I have spoken to three winemakers since reading this comment Jamie.
The concensus,is that greenness,herbal notes--whatever your descriptor,can be attributed to terroir,bottling,age of vines etc etc or,possibly leaf roll.
However,most observers cannot detect greenness in quality Cape reds,and if they can,as you have suggested,it may in some cases add to the wine not detract from the taste.
Why is it ,for example,OK for southern French wines to have a sense of "garrique"about them or is that just a preforative term?

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Keith, thanks for your comments. I would add just a couple of comments. I don't think I'm alone in detecting greenness as a problem in many South African wines; it's a view shared by quite a few experienced tasters. Of course, it's not all wines. In addition, I'd say that I'm a neutral observer with an international perspective: I am favourably disposed to South African wine and I don't have an axe to grind. I'm coming at this problem from as neutral a perspective as possible. If you are lucky, I'll treat you to my theories on Pinotage...

At 12:05 PM, Anonymous keith prothero said...

Please spare me your thoughts on Pinotage Jamie. I am quite happy that only astute palates can recognise and love this varietal,and hence the prices are still very reasonable. (could do with a few smilies here!!)

Interesting point re the Glen Carlou Syrah 2004. As you are aware,this wine was included in a tasting organised recently in the Cape,in which many different syrahs from around the world,were evaluated.
This wine,was definately the dud of the night,overpowering,jammy,unbalanced and yet it received 5 stars from Platter and, in the latest Decanter, 4 stars and described as elegant and understated!!!
I have since tried another bottle and still think it is basically undrinkable.
So what to make of all this? You and others detect greenness ,I dont except on a few cheap and poorly made wines. Is it palate variation,as with the Glen Carlou?
I guess this is what makes wine so interesting to all of us,and leads me to state what I have thought for a long time----the only reliable palate for me is my own!!!

At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Jean-Pierre said...

I concur with Keith (not that his palate is the best!) but that tasters all seem to have different exmaples of wines that have "greenness". The Glen Carlou example is very strange in that it is a fruit and alcohol bomb - if it had more herbal notes I would consider this a good thing. Not to detract from a real vineyard problem, which needs addressing.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

What the Glen Carlou illustrates, to me, is that super ripe grapes can't be balanced by adding some unripe grapes (and here I'm talking about physiological ripeness). I wouldn't say it is a really bad wine, just that it's not a five-star wine. If you want top quality, you need pretty homogeneous physiological ripeness in your grapes.

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Gary Jordan said...

Hi Jamie. Gary Jordan here, the owner and winemaker of Jordan wines in Stellenbosch, South Africa, and Chairman of the Cape Winemakers Guild.
I have followed your comments on greenness with interest, so thought that I'd add some comments of my own.

It is very easy to get sugar ripeness in South Africa; however to ensure phenolic ripeness and physiological ripeness together takes a bit more effort sometimes.

A few years ago we started to remove any bunches on short shoots long before verasion, and then follow this up by cutting off any pink or green bunches about one and a half to two months prior to harvest. That way we end up with a very even ripening process, and very little chance of having any green or less-ripe bunches being harvested. A lot more work, but worth the effort!

What one then deals with is purely a terroir difference from vineyard to vineyard, and greenness doesn't enter into the discussion.

Our 2002 Cobblers Hill is perhaps a very good example (Gold medal and Best of Class at the IWSC). This was a more difficult vintage in South Africa from a sugar/tannin vs structure point of view and we had to do a lot more effort in the vineyard prior to harvest. At least it paid off!

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Hi Gary,
thanks for your post, it's really appreciated. I have a question for you: is it possible to segment your vineyard into blocks by going round at veraison and seeing whether there are bits that change colour later? Would this be at all helpful in ensuring even ripeness, assuming that it's possible to manage the different bits of a vineyard differentially?

I've also noticed that at veraison the grapes in a bunch typically change colour at different times. Are grapes in the same bunch homogeneous in their ripeness levels? Or are the shoulders and top generall less ripe than the bottom? And does Pinotage exhibit in-bunch ripening differences more than other red varieties?

At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Gary Jordan said...

I was a geologist in my previous life, Jamie, so I made sure that when I planned all our vineyards, I divided them up according to soil type, slope etc. That is why our individual vineyards range in size from half a hectare up to a maximum of about five hectares. Because of this, we tend to get far more even ripening within a specific block. For example, I have two chardonnay vineyards a few hundred meters from each other, (same clone, same planting date) and yet one is always harvested at least a week to ten days earlier than the second one. Imagine if it was only one larger vineyard! Although the sugar levels may be the same at the actual harvesting dates, the later one is always better (more concentrated) and is the vineyard we call "Nine Yards", the same Chardonnay that won the John Platter 5* rating.

Bunches do vary slightly in ripeness from one another; inner bunches may have slightly lower sugar levels than outer bunches. (we have on occaision harvested these separately!) Within bunches, one may also be able to find that not all berries are the same. This is a particular problem with merlot for some producers (not virus related).

We also crop thin our merlot to exclude bunches with partially ripe berries. An interesting observation though, is that the new generation French harvesting machines can be set to exclude green berries or raisined berries! Although we harvest about 50-60% of our grapes by hand, we bought one of these machines a couple of years ago, purely from a quality point of view. It's great to see the odd bunch left in the vineyard with green berries still intact!

Regarding Pinotage - I don't have even one stray vine on our property! Be interested to hear your views on the variety sometime!

We're into day 4 of our harvest, so I must get back to the cellar. If anyone wants to follow our progress, you can log onto www.jordanwines.com and click on News/News from the Press.

At 9:21 PM, Anonymous Jean-Pierre said...

Great to get Gary's input - I would also add (apropos of one of the wines suggested as having a green streak earlier) that shiraz plantings are generally some of the most recent in the Cape winelands and hence the least likely to suffer from full-blown viral troubles.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

interestingly at that estate (I think we're talking about the same one) the viticulturalist told me that they were having to replant new plantings because of the dreaded LRV


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