Blame It On The Pyrazine!

I may have mentioned this already, but I have a hard time with Cabernet Sauvignons. As a California wine lover, who loves visiting Napa, this can be a bit frustrating. Even in blends, when it’s not the dominate grape, I can easily detect its presence.

The reason? I’m not a fan of green bell peppers, and whenever that flavor is present, it leaves behind a terrible bitter taste. No matter how lush the fruit and other flavors that may waft from the glass, just a tiny taste turns the entire experience sour for me. 

Fortunately, there have been a few exceptions. I recently had a glass of Stag’s Leap Hands of Time Napa Valley Red Blend, which I gladly accepted a second glass of; and I’ve been able to tolerate some Cabernets when paired well with food.

But it turns out, there’s a name for this flavor – and a reason it’s detected in certain wines. More importantly, I may not be the only one who’s sensitive to it (see this 2010 blog post on the subject). It’s a chemical compound called Pyrazine.

The chemical often appears in Sauvignon Blancs, too. But I’m much more likely to tolerate it there. In fact, I’ll actively order SBs and love the crisp mix of high acidity with citrus flavors and some light herbaceousness.  Given my choice, I’ve always enjoyed California SBs to those from New Zealand. And wouldn’t you know it: Pyrazine is more apparent in Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough than those from California (So why can’t winemakers do the same with their Cabernets?).

I’m guessing there are probably additional chemical reactions that happen in red wine, which make it less approachable for me. I hope to research this further and learn more about it. For now, however, I’m glad I can put a name to it.

(Photo by Manfred Moitzi via flickr and creative commons.)

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