What I Drank Last Night
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Chateau Pichon-Longueville au Baron de Pichon-Longueville 2008 vs. Meerlust Rubicon 2007

4ng/l vs. 42ng/l

“Are South African wine producers and judges not sensitive enough to greenness in Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot?” was the question posed by Charles Hopkins of Durbanville winery De Grendel at a workshop for some of the country’s leading critics held yesterday.

Methoxypyrazines are the chemical compounds responsible for “green” aromas and flavours in wine , 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine or IBMP giving Cabernet Sauvignon a bell-pepper character and  the particular focus of Hopkins’s presentation.

IBMP has an extremely low threshold value, with it theoretically detectable sensorially at a concentration of 2ng/l in water. Hopkins said that outside of South Africa, reds with an IBMP concentration of over 10ng/l are considered problematic , those over 30ng/l outright faulty.

As part of the exercise, a blind tasting of a line-up of six wines, either straight Cabernet Sauvignon or Cab blends with each taster asked to nominate his or her most preferred wine as well as the wine with the highest IBMP count. Suffice to say, there was little unanimity as to the best wine overall and some leading tasters have a very high tolerance for IBMP!

The line-up of wines with their respective IBMP concentrations was a follows:

1. Chateau Pichon-Longueville au Baron de Pichon-Longueville2008 (4ng/l)
2. Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (10ng/l)
3. Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (21ng/l)
4. Graham Beck Chalkboard #3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (25ng/l)
5. Hillcrest Hornfels 2008 (41ng/l)
6. Meerlust Rubicon 2007 (42ng/l)

My most preferred wine on the day was the Rust en Vrede (score: 16/20) and the wine I found the most excessively green was indeed the Meerlust (score: 15/20) but context is everything as I have previously found the latter to be a pretty smart wine.

The Pichon-Longueville with the lowest IBMP was criticised by the likes of Michael Fridjhon and Tim James as being over-ripe and dilute. My tasting note was: “Ripe dark fruit and an oxidative note on the nose. Rich, full and apparently sweet on the palate with smooth tannins and soft acidity” and my score was 15.5/20.

This is a wine that Robert Parker of Wine Advocate scored 95 on the 100-point scale and Jancis Robinson MW 17+ on the 20-point scale (see here). After yesterday’s exercise, it does seem that local and international judges are operating in significantly different if not completely contradictory paradigms.

Comments

  1. Kwispedoor says:

    Great winemaker that he is (and brilliant all-round bloke), Charles has made some pretty beautiful pyraziny wines himself, esp. in his white Koetshuis range. IBMP is inherent to Cabernet and many attempts (esp. outside of France) to eradicate it leads to over-ripeness and the boring, thick, unbalanced heavyweight wines that emanate from that. From what the judges said, it seems clear that the 2008 Pichon isn’t exactly classical Bordeaux… I’ve also found that (IMHO, more in reds than whites – perhaps due to more chance of molecular polymerization) over time, this pyrazine character tends to become more nuanced and integrated. I seem to find the IBMP character not only in thinnish, unripe wines, but also in some very, very good – and ageworthy – ones.  

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