Wine myths, part III: Greenness is bad

Darren Smith

Darren Smith

17 January 2019

In this series on wine myths, Darren Smith sets out to debunk some commonly held assumptions about wine and its production

This is a very common notion but a confused one. The fact is that many great wines are green when young. Of course, no one is saying that you should welcome overwhelming aromas of green beans in your Cabernet or Carmenere. There is a point at which greenness goes too far and becomes unpleasant. But there is room for the pendulum of public opinion to swing a little way back in its favour, and for people to recognise that the right ‘shade’ of greenness is sometimes the prelude to wonderful things.

Niepoort Poeirinho Bairrada

Niepoort stresses that greenness comes from picking grapes relatively early. This wine dances on a pinhead of ripeness, which comes across as a sort of sappy, savoury-sweet fruit. This, over time, will soften and develop mesmerising tertiary flavours. Niepoort’s inspiration for Poeirinho was the Baga wines of the past (Poeirinho was Baga's former name) made in Bairrada, such as Dores Simões Garrafeira. These were typically light, delicate reds which also had great ageing potential.

Pioneering Portuguese winemaker and avid old wine collector Dirk Niepoort is a vociferous advocate of greenness in red wines. He laments how it seems to have become one of two ‘great enemies of the wine student,’ he says, along with oxidation for whites.

‘Those are the two myths which I think are totally over the top,’ he says. ‘The result is that white wines don’t age any more because of overprotection from must oxidation, and [regarding red wines] everybody is brainwashed into thinking that physiological ripeness – which translated to me means over-ripeness – is the essence of a great wine.’

Instead, Niepoort is convinced that ‘acidity and greenness – balance based on having a bit of greenness and having the acidity – are the essence of a great wine. The best example is Bordeaux. A great Bordeaux was always a bit harsh and green in its youth. After bottling it was still harsh but not necessarily green. Being a bit green in the beginning is essential and it’s connected to not being over-ripe and having the acidity [to age].’

Jan Konetzki is a man who knows a thing or two about the components of a fine Bordeaux. As a Château Latour ambassador and director of Ten Trinity Square – the venue with the largest collection of Latour wines outside Pauillac – he also acknowledges the role greenness plays in the life of great red wines.

‘There is a confusion about greenness,’ he observes. ‘In the old days we thought about it as under-ripeness. But I am with Dirk [Niepoort]. In great wines, they represent freshness and ageability. They also lift the aromas and give the wines more drinkability. Most of the First growths have mastered the link between ripeness and sappy freshness – especially Château Margaux and (I have to be biased) Château Latour, too.’

Want more wine myth debunking? Don't miss parts one and two of this series

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