Chile and Peppers (or “Wine Shopping in the Veggie Aisle”)

Vinted on October 25, 2010 binned in commentary

Am I crazy for thinking Chilean wines still have way too much pyrazine/green pepper action?

Well… am I???

That’s a question that’s been on my mind lately, especially after taking part in the Wines of Chile red blends on-line tasting recently and finding myself in the minority of participants who found the levels of nettle / green pepper aromas in the reds almost… distracting.  The Syrah-based wines showed the most promise (and to me the lower amounts of pyrazine action).  In my experience, those green-ish aromas are ok in very, very small quantities, adding hints of interesting smells to the dark fruits and giving reds the occasional bump from “very good” to “astoundingly complex” territory.

Notice I am saying “very very small quantities” and I mean just that – the pyrazines that contribute to those aromas are potent and a little goes a loooooong way, baby.

To be honest, I’m beginning to think that Chile may never really get it totally together on this; it might just be part of their climate, their terroir, their vinous destiny.

Which means that Argentina might be poised to clean Chile’s clock in the South American fine red wine market.

Not all Chilean reds are overly green, and I’m not the only one who thinks that Syrah might be the variety with the brightest (and least green) future in Chile: Michael Cox from Wines of Chile said the same thing during his talk at the recent European Wine Bloggers Conference in Vienna.

BUT… After tasting more and more examples of excellent, complex, and reasonably-priced higher-end red blends from Argentina, I’m growing increasingly more convinced that Argentina’s future is looking rosey… er, make that dark red… and that the one who might suffer most from that success is Chile, at least in the U.S. because consumers here probably don’t prefer the wet blanket of green bell pepper aromas laying all over the dense black fruit of their supple reds.

This all really hit home for me when I caught up with Argentine producer Doña Paula’s Edgardo Del Pópolo, their head Viticulturalist and Operations Manager, for dinner in downtown Philly to taste through their recent releases and generally talk shop.  Edgardo didn’t think I was crazy for being turned off by the pyrazines in Chilean reds, but he was a bit more diplomatic about the differences and saw them mostly as complimentary.  He did, however, offer this tidbit:

“In South America, we have a saying: shopping for wine here is like shopping at the grocery; in Argentina you get your fruit, and in Chile you get your vegetables…”

Never mind that Doña Paula’s Torrontes is a killer entrant into invigorated the S. American white wine market (it’s got a killer nose of passion and star fruits); their Seleccion de Bodega Malbec is not only proof that Argentina has nailed the dark-fruit-profile red thang, it’s also a great example of how complex (think hints of graphite) and age-worthy Malbec can be in the right hands.

And the pepper?  Black, white, but definitely not green.  Sign me up, baby.

So… I ask YOU… am I crazy?  Shout it out in the comments.

To get you started, here are some of the responses (the serious and not-so-serious!) to that same question when I posed it on twitter and facebook last week…

Ryan Lee Keith ryanlkeith
no not crazy at all. Totally disappointed in Don Melchor one time because tasted like a peppery green bell pepper
Swirl Girls SwirlGirls
Not lovin gp RT @1WineDude: Am I crazy for thinking Chilean wines still have way too much pyrazine/green pepper action?
Anthony Ambrosini acfoodandwine
You’re not that crazy. Varying levels of vegetation seem to come up, but sometimes hidden by smoky notes, too.
John Howard-Fusco EatingInSJersey
No, it’s your worshiping of the Steelers that makes you crazy. ;)
Strappo SorStrappo
@1WineDude no. they tend to suck.
Cliff Brown cliffordbrown3
Agree! RT @1winedude: Am I crazy for thinking Chilean wines still have way too much pyrazine/green pepper action?
Craig Drollett CraigDrollett
@1WineDude nope, you’re right on the money.
Steve Liberace
I think you’re way out of line Mr. However, I chew gum when I drink my Mad Dog 20/20.
Mary Maynard
Okay, this suddenly explains why my husband loves Chilean wines






  • Steve Heimoff

    I don't taste a lot of Chilean wines but hey, I'm with you on pyrazine. Like you say a little goes a LOOOONNNG way. If you're getting that green poo, then pan the wines! Doesn't matter what anybody else sez.

    • 1WineDude

      Steve, your comment brings up an interesting question (and one I got from a few others via email and twitter) which is "if you didn't like the pyrazine action why did the wines get favorable reviews?"

      The answer kind of goes to the heart of how I even approach wine, actually. Which is, I try to draw distinctions between my preferences and what I consider flaws, winemaking styles, and inherently how well made a wine is. And I believe there can be huge, profound differences there, and a wine that I may never want to buy or drink could still be a killer wine, well made and true to character for a place and a variety, that others would enjoy.

      This first struck home for me many years ago in Germany. With beer.

      I was in Frankfurt and drinking with some locals and I mentioned that I didn't care for Pilsner beer. Well, these folks were adamant that I try Pilsners because it was IMPOSSIBLE that I couldn't like the finest Pilsners from Germany. So we started drinking some beers that were clearly top-of-the-line and extremely well-made.

      I just didn't like them, fundamentally.

      So… would I have said they were poor beers? No way.

      For me, the same holds true with wine, and I find myself so often in the minority on the Chilean reds stuff that I have to distance myself a little bit and try to get a broader perspective of those wines before I say whether or not I think they're any good. And it's f–king hard, as I'm sure you know! :)

      One could certainly argue that when it comes to that stance, I'm too forgiving on the Chilean red front, and not nearly as forgiving enough on the Brett. front!

      The other thing you touch on a bit is that reviewing wines shouldn't be influenced too much by what others are saying/tasting/rating, and I totally agree. One of the things I've come to enjoy about the way I taste most wines (which is "late" by most producers standards!) is that after I taste them and write them up or give them a rating/badge/whatever, I get to see what others have said about a lot of those wines and it's almost like a game to see who is thinking along the same lines as me, etc. I've found that I've had profoundly different views from other bloggers on Chinons, for example, and from Robert Parker on red blends that I'd characterize as subtle which he views as a bit weak. You and I seem to agree more often than not on CA reds (the 2005 Trefethen Cab, stands out in my mind as an example where we ended up on almost exactly the same page).

      I can say that the ratings/etc. never EVER get changed based on that research, but it does give me a general idea if I'm going to get clobbered after posting something or not :), and it does let me know just how far from center I might be leaning on a given wine or style. But mostly it's just fun for me, because I'm pretty much incapable of being anyone other than myself at this point (though it has lit a fire under me to challenge other bloggers to get more serious about learning flaws, as during this research I've found a good number of examples where people have panned wines that might have just been corked, or raved about wines that in my view had textbook flaws that are NOT bottle variation but are winemaking/vineyard-related… names withheld of course to protect the guilty! :-).


  • Steve Heimoff

    That's why I'll qualify my remarks with a pyraziney wine. I'll say something like "If you like that pungent New Zealand style, it's for you," and then I'll give it a mediocre score.

    • 1WineDude

      Steve, I think this puts you into the "it's a flaw not a preference" camp? :-)

  • Todd - VTWineMedia

    As much as I do love Chilean wines, I stay away from the VERY low end, as they can present the green bell pepper, and that may be a result of mass production viticulture and underripe fruit. Carmenere was specifically mixed up with Merlot and harvested at the same time for over a century, even though it needs a couple of extra weeks of hang time to reach phenolic ripeness. I sometimes wonder if folks are still trying to get past that known taste profile, or if the rush to get Carmenere into the market is still ahead of the winemaking, given that the correct identification of the varietal is only 15 years past. . That said….the Terrunyo Carmenere has had no green at each of the times I've been fortunate to enjoy it, and this has been true for other established quality brands. I also find that even the lower to mid priced wines are much tighter than what one would expect from a $10 – $18 bottle, the pyrazines influence is more volatile and stands out early, but even these less expensive wines do enjoy a good decanting much more than pop and pour…I really believe that the oxygen exposure brings the fruit and more subtle components to the surface.

  • Todd - VTWineMedia

    One other thing to consider, is that Eucalyptus is right next to bell pepper on the aroma wheel…I can tell you that many of the Chilean vineyards I have seen are bordered by eucalyptus groves, the air smells of the leaves and the dust…and I have often been transported back when I smell the wines of chile…
    And if you like their Syrah…go for the Von Siebenthal Carabantes.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Todd – I suppose I will be able to check out the Eucalyptus action and whether or not the rush to pick early action is happening during my upcoming visit to Chile early next year.

      Your comment does have me wondering how much of the green bell pepper aromatic tinge in Chilean reds is wanted v.s. unwanted v.s. self-inflicted! :)


      • Todd - VTWineMedia

        I'm jealous! We have house projects that are on the list ahead of another trip to see my wife's family there, so I'm thinking that it will not be next year. Great! you will get a chance to breath in that amazing atmosphere, and see how the wine tastes alongside a pastel de choclo, asado de cabra, or some empanadas del horno.
        Jeez, I just made myself hungry…

        • 1WineDude

          :-) Thanks, Todd – you'll get plenty of forewarning of any pending coverage!

  • RichardA

    Down with green pepper! If I wanted I salad, I would eat it and not drink it in my wine.

    It is why I dislike a fair share of Cabernet Francs, because they contain too much of that vegetal/green pepper taste for me. Though I know others who love that aspect of the wine. To each their own.

    • 1WineDude

      Hey Richard – for me, I dig the aroma in very small quantities. What I don't want is to feel as though an entire bell pepper got shoved into the bottle!

  • Kimberly

    Good. I'm not crazy. I was telling a co-worker the other day that I don't love Carmeneres, because the few I've tried have had that weird green pepper edge to them. Co-worker said I should try some higher-end ones, and I'd probably have better luck. We'll see about that. : )

    • 1WineDude

      Kimberly – in the words of The Tick: "You're not going crazy! You're going SANE in a CRAZY WORLD!" :)

      • Kimberly

        Oh, good stuff! I can't wait to say this to the next person who tells me I'm crazy! Wait . . .

  • UnmitigatedGaul

    I have a deep set of verticals of Clos Apalta and have been opening some of the older ones lately. Where they used to show beautiful deep black fruit they have of late been taken over by very a stewey vegetal character. And this across several tastings/vintages. I was quite dismayed. It seems as the primary fruit fades the pyrazine quality tends to reassert. Has anyone seen this In the other super chileans as they develop?

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