April 20, 2015

What Green Means

At the New Zealand Winegrowers fantastic tasting recently featuring British wine writer Oz Clarke and California winemaker Ted Lemmon, I found myself thinking about what green means. Anyone who comes away from a tasting of New Zealand sauvignons has probably written that word 20 times on their tasting sheet. (I certainly have).

But it’s clearly ridiculous to use the single word green to cover a huge range (and quality) of wines. So, when it comes to sauvignon blanc, what does green really mean? And wouldn’t it be helpful to telescope down to metaphors that are more specific? More on this in a moment.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the same sophomoric approach to green in sauvignon blanc extends to cabernet sauvignon. I hear people all the time—people who should know better—use the word green pejoratively to mean that the cabernet in question is de facto of poor quality. Hello? Green is woven into the DNA of cabernet’s flavor (sauvignon blanc after all is cabernet’s mother). And why is it that a sense of garigue (dry resinous herbs), chaparral, pine, green tobacco, sage—or any other of a myriad of greens—is bad? These constitute many of the flavors that reverberate through great Bordeaux. Should everything have to taste like cherries? I hope not.

Back to sauvignon blanc, I recently made myself a chart of the good ways in which green can manifest itself. The New Zealand wines I tasted yesterday, reflected many of them.

Green Idea                          What You Might Smell or Taste in the Wine

Green fruits                                                  Green fig, honeydew melon

Bitter green                                                  Arugula, green tea

Exotic green                                                  Lemongrass, lime leaf

Smoky green                                                Lapsang Souchong tea

Citrusy green                                                Lime pith, grapefruit pith