In the very organic chemistry sense.. Which I hate.. A pyrazine is a  heterocyclic aromatic organic compound with the chemical formula C4H4N2 . So what does that mean?! It is a very long term that means that the compound has  at least two different elements as members of its ring or ring.

What’s more important is what is a pyrazine in relation to wine. It is the compound in wine that gives us that bell pepper aroma and flavor. However, keep in mind there are many pyrazines out there. We talk about it in terms of green bell pepper, but there is also pyrazines responsible for the presence of spicy or sweet herbs, plant stems, asparagus, snap pea, olive, jalapeno, or even just rustic earth.

Interestingly, at least to me, according to an article written by Frederik B. Mortzfeld in a July 2020 issue of Biotechnology Journal, Pyrazines are volatile, nitrogen-containing heterocyclic compounds widely distributed in plants, insects, fungi and bacteria. They act as an odor signal to repel predators and effectively prevent vegetative tissue or immature fruit from being eaten. For this reason, pyrazines find various applications as ingredients in pesticides, insecticides, dyes, and pharmaceutical compounds.

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Pyrazines are most commonly found in the Bordeaux grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Carménère. But also think NZ Sauvignon Blanc where it presents itself as jalapeno.

Bell pepper in the wine is not a fault, it is a vineyard management situation. The pyrazines develop in the berries naturally, it is part of their makeup. But what happens in the vineyard can enhance or diminish it. And it is up to your palate to decide if you like the bell pepper or not. 

Vine balance is extremely important. This means that the vine is balanced between its vegetative state and its reproductive state. Vegetative is green. The stems, the leaves. This is the part of the vine that is needed to grow. It adsorbs the sun for photosynthesis, absorbs the nutrients from the soil so that it can develop. The reproductive portion are those beautiful berries that we harvest to become wine. Too much green leads to a green flavor in the wine, but there is more to the pyrazine levels than that.

Pyrazines, like I said, develop naturally in the berries. They develop as the berries increase in sugar. Harvesting early, will increase the levels of pyrazine in the finished product. But the cool thing is that pyrazines have kryptonite. Sun! The sunlight will actually break down the pyrazine. So harvest decisions as well as canopy management will help deter the pyrazines. 

sun setting behind a tree

There is a saying dappled in sunlight. And this is very true when it comes to pyrazines. It is necessary to maintain a specific canopy to protect the grapes from excessive sun exposure, while allowing the berries to get enough sun to break down the pyrazines. This is the reason why Cabernet Franc grown in cooler climates will contain more bell pepper. The berries have a more difficult time ripening and the amount of sun they see is significantly less. Not allowing the berries to break down the pyrazines.  AGAIN- not a fault, although excessive amounts can be viewed as one, pyrazines in wine are a product of terroir. You choose whether you like them or not.

grape vines dappled in sunlight
dappled sunlight in June

If you do like bell pepper, then look for Cabernet Franc from cooler climates such as the Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, Oregon or Okanagan. Prefer to keep bell pepper on your plate and not in your glass, look for warmer climates such as Paso, Southern France, Greek Islands or Southern France. 


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