the greeny-red wines of 2004

You only need to look at notes for the 2004’s tasted here in the last 2-3 months to see that something is going-on in those bottles – and it’s not entirely pleasant – so I had to write something about it.

Initially I felt compelled to say something, simply because I felt that others were (I felt) misrepresenting the wines (in general); by describing them as ‘green’ many were also taking the a logical assumption that the wines were unripe – many without even tasting them – and this was becoming accepted as fact by many others who also had not tasted nor would they based on this ‘fact’. I had my say, and it seems that we agree that there is something about these wines – let my try and explain.

This ‘vintage artifact’ is quite specific, and in quite a large percentage of wines it is also quite pronounced, let me try to define it:

Some people say green, some people say herbal, but I will define it as a type of cedar smell. At low levels it gives a pleasant cedar, or almost menthol edge; as it becomes more pronounced, it is more resinous, eventually resembling the well-known (in the UK) ‘coal-tar’ soap. What is really surprising, is that it is often quite pronounced on the palate too – though perhaps this is what burghound would better describe as ‘inner mouth perfume’.

So what isn’t it;

  • I would say it is not the smell of rot – though lots had to be triaged at harvest.
  • It is not the smell of stems – as many wines that were fully destemmed show the trait.
  • It is not (in general) anything to do with unripe fruit – Claude Kolm makes the telling remark (in the discussion linked above) that few people added sugar in this vintage – because the sugars were high enough without. It is a rare wine the truly unripe 2004!

It is a conundrum for two reasons:

  1. Wines tasted from barrel showed this only to a minor, let us say ‘normal’ extent, yet it has developed/amplified since bottling
  2. Different wines from the same cellar – so same viticulture, ripeness and vinification – are not the same, some show it and others don’t.

So that’s not really great news; it came almost out of nowhere, and is now undermining/dominating the personality of many, otherwise vivacious, flavourful wines. At a lower level this aroma may have been present in a number of vintages, though was quickly subsumed into a mix of secondary aromas.

Hopefully this will be no more than an interesting and transient interlude in the evolution of these wines, but having spoken to several trustworthy sources, no-one is totally sure.

I will keep testing the bottles of-course 😉

14 responses to “the greeny-red wines of 2004”

  1. John

    Nice piece Bill.
    I recently experienced this with the ’97. Confounded me.
    I really appreciate summing up the subject and pointing me to the discussion.
    Nothing nearly as noticeable to speak of (as the ’97) in the twelve-fourteen ‘04’s I’ve tasted…..so far.

  2. guy maes

    I agree … my biggest frustration is that in some wines I did not taste this when at the winery in the spring of 2006, and now I’m opening a bottle to try and a different taste, it overshadows the fruit …. my only conclusion is to have patience with my other 6 bottles? not sure if this is the right option? but I can’t give them all away, don’t have that much presents to give …

  3. Richard -Alberta

    interesting to get some comments on this ’04 “thing”. I have detected this aspect in many wines from throughout France, and have refered to it variously as “resin” or “green pips”. I, too, hope that this condition is a part of bottle evolution and will disappear. Yes, sugar levels in most regions were not in question, but was full ripening of seeds such that no odd phenolics remained to cause this? I have also asked many producers (and worked this vintage in Fleurie) and have no solid opinions/theories. This “04-ness” shoes up even in whites.
    Lets cross our fingers!!!!

  4. Mark Palmer


    Just had a good read through your article here and the various posts on e-Bob and whilst I agree with most of what has been said and have noticed it in the 04’s that were available to taste at the A&B tasting here on Tuesday night (not had anything else from bottle yet), there are a couple of little faults in your logic I think.

    Firstly, you (via Claude Kolm) say that there was no need for chaptalisation, therefore the wines are ripe. Of course you will be aware that you can have high sugars without true phenolic ripeness and this would be borne out by the fact that the period from veraison to harvest was short. We all know that this problem rears its head from time to time in hot vintages (in Bordeaux in 1989 and 2003 for example). Could it be perhaps that in 2004 we have an odd combination of high acidity and very slight phenolic under-ripeness with high sugars, rather than the traditional combination of low acidity and slight phenolic under-ripeness with high sugars?

    Secondly, you say “Different wines from the same cellar – so same viticulture, ripeness and vinification – are not the same, some show it and others don’t”. Surely there are going to be quite marked differences in levels of ripeness from terroir to terroir (and therefore in bottled form cru to cru) and perhaps this could also help explain why the amount shows in different ways.

    Of course I don’t claim to know any more than anyone else on this issue, but looking at it logically, it sounds to me like a very minor phenolic underripeness “problem”. Given the quite dramatic changes that occur in bottle over time I’d be more than surprised if it was visible in most mature bottles.

  5. Jamie Goode

    Not sure if this is the same, but I got a ‘green earth’/gardening smell in a few 04 red cask samples – I reckon it was geosmin. This is just speculation. This would be a taint in my book.

    But greenness itself is fine, I reckon, at a low level in young wines – but it has to be at a low level. In fact, this might even be a helpful character with regard to ageing.

  6. Andrew Martin

    I think a lack of phenolic ripeness may be the cause. Here in southern Victoria at a relatively closer to the equator latitude an almost fragrant geranium character does seem to occur when ripeness is hastened by a warm burst of weather. The sugars rise quickly without fully developed flavour ripeness. This seems more pronounced with pinots from east of Melbourne in the Gippsland area – don’t ask me why. The coal tar soap description is a good one. This note seems to recede with time should there also be enough balance of fruit density and structure. The real problem occurs when there’s too much minty/eucalypt flavour and not enough concentration. However the great progress made in viticulture and especially canopy management over the last few years has really helped balance – dare say vine age hasn’t done any harm.
    So, it’ll be interesting to see what some of the 2004s are like in three or four years – maybe the warming climate may mean less really green Burgundy vintages but spoil those long warm sunlit September days. Must say the 2003s I’ve tried lack the ripe acid finesse that only pinot grown at Burgundian latitudes seems to have.
    Anyhow, the pleasure will be in the drinking – cheers.

  7. Burgundy-Report » benchmark for a generation pt.2

    […] The only real negative I can see for the 2005’s is that today’s hype is based on the wines in cask – this has yet to be translated into bottles – many, many domaines will not make their final (and in some cases first) racking for another couple of weeks, afterwards making their assemblage and finally bottling (maybe) at the end of February. Typically they are looking to get the final polishing of their oak tannins, but you only have to look at the 2004’s to see that things don’t always develp as planned. […]

  8. Burgundy-Report » the greeny-red wines of 2004 - pt.2

    […] yes I know exactly what you mean – it’s also there in some whites. We see this to a lower extent in many vintages, but I have to admit it’s on a much higher level since we bottled[…]

  9. jeff smith

    Bill I have sampled over 10 2004 wines and found all but a few excellent I recently had a F Magnien Chambolle Charmes which was amazing… You should review more magnien wines.Tks Jeff

  10. Antoine


    Some time ago, you gave the link to the former Neal Martin wine Journal (that cannot be anymore accessed without paying EParker)…I used the link but my computer crashed…Can you send me back the internet link to the old versions that were saved somewhere on the net


  11. Burgundy-Report » 04 chézeaux (ponsot) chambolle 1er charmes

    […] Many people – pundits included – like to have a definitive answer for why there is the green-streak in (possibly) a majority of 2004 reds, some growers say that even whites show it. The most common response (given reason) is phenolic maturity with equal second place (should that be third?) going to hail/rot. Well many that show the trait saw no hail and also no rot – the phenolic ripeness crew are now looking smug – but wait: Here is a wine made by Laurent Ponsot – the last of the late pickers – do you really expect me to believe it’s a ripeness issue? On opening, his Griotte shows it to an even higher level, more of that when I eventually write the note. […]

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