What does green wine taste like?

A green wine taste is acceptable in some white wines, but professionals reject it in red wines without agreeing on what greenness means. Learn more.

Published March 17, 2021

In the early 2000s, divergent opinions spread in the wine industry about green wine taste profiles. Supporters of the emerging New Zealand Sauvignon blanc style opposed the traditional viewpoint that green notes in wines were not desirable. I remember a colorful conversation with the late Professor Denis Dubourdieu, the world specialist of Sauvignon blanc wine. He argued firmly that green notes in Sauvignon blanc meant the wine was faulty.

Over the years, terms like boxwood, asparagus, or green bell pepper became part of certain white wine styles' descriptive lexicon.

Green bell pepper aroma

What about green wine taste in red wine?

Some vegetal/herbaceous aromas originate from grape berries, according to the research review by Ruiz and collaborators [1], and are naturally present in the finished wines.

The authors cited in particular:

  • Touriga Nacional, with Mint
  • Tempranillo, with Dill
  • Petit Verdot, with Sage
  • Red bell pepper, with Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Green bell pepper, with Carmenere

However, most wine professionals consider green notes in red wines as faults. 

Is it just a question of aromatic intensity? or 

Are specific green aromas less acceptable than others?

A French and Spanish research team attempted to clarify this concept of a green wine taste in red wine.

Clarifying the concept of green wine taste

Objectives of the study

Researchers decided to rely on wine experts' long-term memory to understand their understanding of "greenness" in the context of red wine. 

Their hypotheses were that:

  1. Green wine taste included multiple dimensions, not just aromas;
  2. Winemakers working in different regions may have a divergent understanding of the greenness concept.

Study implementation

The study took place in Spain, and 77 winemakers took part in the trial. The range of experience span from 2 years to 47 years as wine professionals.

They represented four distinct wine-producing regions in Northern Spain:

  • DO Somontano, producing many cultivars including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Tempranillo;
  • DO Campo de Borja, producing mainly Garnacha;
  • DOC Rioja and Ribera del Duero, famous for their Tempranillo.

Instead of relying on wine tasting notes to address the question, researchers chose a cognitive-based descriptive methodology, depending on experts' experience and memorization with green wine taste.

Green leaves of basil

Participants responded to an e-mail survey and had to answers two questions:

  1. Remember the last time you tasted a green wine, could you please describe it?
  2. Do you believe that wines with green character are a problem in your region?

Findings on green wine taste

I was curious to see the results.

After reviewing the descriptions, the researchers identify 23 terms describing the sensory characteristics of green wines and the origin of green wine taste.
They even created a wheel to summarize their findings.

Green wine wheel
From Sáenz-Navajas, M. P. et al. (2021)

Across the four wine-producing regions:

Three attributes described greenness consistently.

  • vegetal aroma,
  • bitter taste, and
  • unpleasant overall.

Differences appeared among regional experts.

  • In DO Rioja and Somontano, excessive sourness and astringent mouthfeel were dominant green wine characters. 
  • In contrast, winemakers from DO Ribera del Duero cited most often specific wine components responsible for the green notes, such as pyrazines, asparagus aroma, and unripe grapes. 
  • Winemakers from DO Campo de Borja associated greenness most often with grape varieties such as Cabernet.

My take-aways

I was disappointed to read so few specific green aroma descriptors from the wine experts. 

They mostly used vegetal, herbaceous, and asparagus-the only specific term. Vegetal/herbaceous is a primary category on the Wine Aroma Wheel, ranging from freshly cut grass to dry tea leaves.

From this study, it is clear that the aroma component is essential to describe what green wines taste like, but not by itself. It's not just a question of aromatic intensity, as I posited in the introduction.

Tastes and mouthfeel (sour and bitter tastes, astringent, and "aggressive tannins") are also important indicators of green wine characters. They can result from unripe grapes, which can happen in cool climate regions or young wines (requiring aging).

I need your help.

Since the experts didn't clarify what vegetal aroma meant more specifically, I need your help.

How would YOU describe the aroma component of green wines? 

Please write your answer in the comment section below. 



[1] Ruiz, J., Kiene, F., Belda, I. et al. Effects on varietal aromas during winemaking: a review of the impact of varietal aromas on the flavor of wine. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 103, 7425–7450 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00253...

[2] Sáenz-Navajas, M. P., Arias-Pérez, I., Ferrero-del-Teso, S., Escudero, A., Ferreira, V., Fernández-Zurbano, P., & Valentin, D. (2021). Access to wine experts’ long-term memory to decipher an ill-defined sensory concept: the case of green red wine. OENO One, 55(1), 69–79. https://doi.org/10.20870/oeno-...

Categories: wine aroma, wine style

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