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Wine Word of the Month: Pyrazines The chemical compounds that lend green, vegetal flavors to wine are most prominent in the so-called “Bordeaux” varieties.

April 18, 2022

When studying for the blind tasting component of the Master Sommelier exam, one prominent aromatic marker of wines from grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc is a scent reminiscent of fresh bell pepper or other green vegetables. These aromas are derived from chemical compounds called pyrazines (short for alkyl-methoxypyrazines), and they are most readily associated with aromas of green bell pepper. Although pyrazine compounds may be found in many different wines, they are most prominent in wines from the classic “Bordeaux” grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Carmenère, Malbec, and Sauvignon Blanc.

In addition to those grapes being naturally predisposed to pyrazine-derived aromas/flavors, the overall intensity of those sensations varies. One big contributor to elevated pyrazine levels (which can produce more unpleasant, aggressively vegetal flavors) is how the grapes are farmed. Under-ripe, over-cropped fruit tends to show more “greenness,” as you might expect; this may come from the grapes being too shaded by an over-large canopy of leaves, by cool temperatures during the growing season, by over-watering/excess rain, and other factors.

In smaller concentrations, pyrazines can lend a pleasing minty note to Cabernet-based reds, whether from Bordeaux, California, the Loire Valley, or the Southern Hemisphere. If you’re assessing a wine “blind” and detect notes of herbs, bell pepper, asparagus, etc., there’s a very strong chance it will be from one of the varieties mentioned above.

Green bell pepper. - 1969-12-31