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Putting fresh-cut 'grass' in your glass
By John H. Isacs

WHAT is more reminiscent of spring than the smell of fresh-cut grass? Perhaps flowers, but I wrote on the subject of floral aromas in wines last spring. Intriguingly, some of the world's most popular wines express themselves with aromas of grass.

The varietal that first jumps to mind when we think of grass is Sauvignon Blanc, but there are other white varietals as well as a few red grapes that make wines that exhibit notes of grass.

One shouldn't confuse the wine term green with grass. A green wine is a wine that lacks ripeness and is always used in a negative fashion. Grass on the other hand is used to describe a pleasant herbaceous element that is similar to grass that's just been cut.

Subtle aromas and occasionally secondary and tertiary flavors of grass in young white wines are a good thing, while overt grassiness is bad and is commonly found in green wines that need ripe fruit for balance. Therefore, as with your lawn; it's best to keep the grass in your wine well-cropped.

Champion of grass

One signature descriptor of the popular white variety Sauvignon Blanc is grassiness. The Sauvignon Blanc variety tends to make intensely aromatic wines with good acidity. The aromas and flavors of grass in a Sauvignon Blanc come from flavor compounds known as methoxypyrazines that are not so surprisingly also found in fresh grass.

Sauvignon Blanc originated in the Gironde area of southwest France in the 17th century and is possibly a descendant of the more ancient variety Savagnin. In the Old World the Sauvignon Blanc grape makes some of the world's best white wines, most notably in Bordeaux where it is most often blended with Semillon, and also in the Loire where it's used to make stylish single-variety wines under the names Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.

New Zealand is now the most famous New World producer of Sauvignon Blanc but a number of Chilean wines from this variety are increasingly distinguished. In both cases, the grass sensations in the wines are balanced by an abundance of ripe fruit.

In general, New World Sauvignon Blancs tend to offer more overt sensations of grass than their Old World counterparts, but I have tasted several young Bordeaux and Loire Valley Sauvignons with agreeable grassy aromas.

Arguably grassiest of all Sauvignon Blancs comes from the cool climates of New Zealand, especially Marlborough near the northern tip of the South Island. These grassy, fruity and exuberant wines have become some of the most popular and acclaimed white wines of the New World.

There are many excellent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines available in Shanghai, including those made by Villa Maria, Kim Crawford, Giesen Brothers, Mud House, Tikki and Highfield. Two Chilean whites I've tasted locally with lovely grassy notes are Miguel Torres Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc and Vina Chocolan Malvilla Sauvignon Blanc.

Other grassy wines

Sauvignon Blanc's partner grape in Bordeaux, Semillon, is another French variety that often has sensations of fresh grass. This varietal is not as acidic as Sauvignon Blanc and tends to make round and rich wines with relatively low acidity.

Australian dry Semillons from Hunter Valley north of Sydney and the Margaret River in Western Australia also commonly have grassy notes. Though they not terribly popular with mainstream US winemakers, I did taste an outstanding single-variety Napa Valley Semillon from contrarian boutique winemaker Scott Palazzio that offered complex and elegant grass and ripe yellow fruit aromas.

Sylvaner wines from the French region of Alsace also commonly offer grassy notes. The Sylvaner grape, also known in Germany as Gruner Sylvaner, is an ancient variety that originated in Central Europe and is now most famous in Germany and Alsace.

This high-yield variety often makes light, insipid wines but when yields are restricted the better examples of Alsatian Sylvaner wines are elegant and fresh. The best single vineyard Sylvaner wines are quite aromatic with enticing scents of grass, citrus fruit and minerals.

Albarino is yet another white variety that typically has grassy qualities. This wonderfully fragrant white wine from the Gaelic wine region of Rias Baixas in the northwest of Spain is believed to be genetically related to Riesling, but the aroma and flavor profile of this Spanish grape is more similar to Sauvignon Blanc.

A tasty quartet of excellent Albarinos available in Shanghai is made by the producers Martin Codex, Lagar de Fornelos, Adegas d'Altmira and Pazo de Barrantes.

Two additional varietals that may offer grassy perfumes are Riesling and Chenin Blanc. While it's almost always white wines that have grassy characteristics, occasionally young Nebbiolo red wines also feature aromas of fresh cut grass.

Grassy bubbles

There's also a French sparkler from the southern French region of Languedoc that commonly exhibits appealing aromas of grass.

The grassiness of these wines comes mostly from the indigenous Mauzac variety.

The best sparklers from this region are called either Crémant de Limoux or Blanquette de Limoux. Crémant de Limoux AOC is a newer appellation that was established in 1990 and allows up to 30 percent Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, with Mauzac comprising the rest.

Blanquette de Limoux AOC dates back to 1938 and is the older, more traditional appellation that mandates wines must be at least 90 percent Mauzac. Both wines are among the best-value, high-quality sparklers in the world.

The aromas and flavors of these Mauzac-based sparkling wines are quite distinct, with excellent minerality, abundant apple flavors and distinctive aromas of fresh cut grass. The best producer of these beautiful bubbles from the south of France is the family-owned winery Antech. Fortunately, they're readily available in our city.

Because most wines offering grassy sensations are young and fresh, they are also particularly appropriate for the lighter foods we enjoy in the spring. So this year while you're savoring a lovely spring salad on a sunny day, I suggest putting some fresh cut grass in your glass.

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