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The Essence of Wine: Green Bell Pepper


Image © 2012 Leigh Beisch

Christopher Columbus was an unwitting pawn, the tool of a plant with grand designs. The seeds of nightshade he carried back to Spain would quickly go on to conquer the world, enslaving cultures for the remainder of history in their culinary devotion to what the ancient Meso-Americans called xilli. As spice, as medicine, as food, there is but a single constant: flavor. But too much of any one flavor in a wine can mean clunkiness instead of complexity. Many of wine's essences are best as grace notes instead of dominant melodies. Such is the case with capsicum. Its key flavors reside in molecules called pyrazines, to which we are so sensitive, that just a few molecules are enough to make anything taste or smell exactly like a freshly cut green bell pepper. These vegetal flavors (never mind that capsicum is a fruit) persist in most unripe grapes, but linger especially long in the Cabernet family, to which they add delicacy or distaste, depending on your point of view. Whether for you an imperfection or a mark of honesty, the flavor is unmistakable.

Vérité "Le Désir" Bordeaux Blend, Sonoma County, California, USA
Yering Station Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarra Valley, Australia
Lang & Reed Wine Company "Two Fourteen" Cabernet Franc, Napa, California, USA
Chateau Lynch-Bages Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Weingut Christ "Mephisto" Red Blend, Vienna, Austria
Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon, Loire Valley, France

This is part of an ongoing series of original images and prose called The Essence of Wine

Comments (6)

03.28.12 at 2:35 AM

Alder, are you saying that the Night shade is in the same family as the Bell pepper? If that's what you are saying, I'm wondering about toxicity!

Alder wrote:
03.28.12 at 8:53 AM


Indeed the whole family of Capsicum plants, which include all peppers, are part of the nightshade family, but there are a lot of things we eat that are in that family: Tomatillos, Potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants for starters. As well as tobacco.

So unless you're suddenly very paranoid, no need to start researching toxicity.

Mary wrote:
03.29.12 at 5:06 PM

Green Pepper happens in wine! Sometimes I like it and sometimes, not!

Chris Robinson wrote:
04.02.12 at 12:37 AM

Or that "cats piss" smell in Sauvignon Blanc. One wonders just how much unripe fruit goes into New Zealand sauvignon wine production? Quite a lot I would think due to millerandage, or uneven berry set, which seems very common in that cooler climate. Hard to believe a whole industry could be based on poor fruit set and that drinkers like the stuff!!

Judy wrote:
04.03.12 at 9:58 AM

Green pepper has come up a lot lately in the wines we've been tasting. A few reds, and several whites - mostly Sauvignon Blancs, as well. Craig is more sensitive to it, partly because he dislikes it. I'm a little more tolerant. but it's not my fav, so it needs to be, as you say, a grace note.

Great post.

Nick Webb wrote:
05.12.12 at 4:18 PM


Sometimes I wonder if I am extra-sensitive to green pepper. It's by far the easiest aroma for me to detect in any wine. I pick it up to some degree in nearly every single Sauvignon Blanc I've tried, with just a few exceptions. It's fine in moderation, but can easily mask other aromas/flavors.

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