Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wine Chemistry

My good customer recently brought a September 22, 2014 article to my attention entitled "A Taste of Wine Science: Researchers zero in on flavor molecules, ponder ways to control them during production" by Lauren K. Wolf.  This chemistry magazine article basically falls into two halves as the title says.  The first half being the "zeroing in"; the second, a potential reconstituting of wine once the flavor and aroma molecules have been isolated.

Wine lovers aren't like sausage lovers by the way.  We really don't want to know how the stuff is made...for romantic reasons.  We want to believe wine is "made" in the vineyards with limited human intervention in the winery.  What's more, that winery is small and set in some bucolic hinterland somewhere tucked away from the corrupting influences of the world.  Sausage making involves slaughterhouses and animal parts we would rather not know about being crammed into intestinal skins...FYI.

In actuality science is a part of the modern winemaking process year round, as much in the vineyard as in the winery.  Moreover as a retailer, I can tell you that science and chemistry are affecting the flavor of a wine long after it leaves the winery and enters the marketplace and even as it rests in your home before finding its way to the dinner table, but I guess that's a different blogpost. 

In this article, researchers identify thousands of chemical compounds in Italian Amarone, a commendable choice for a wine guinea pig if I ever tasted one!  Using a mass spectrometer (whatever that is) they identify thirty-five molecules that essentially simulate the taste and feel of real Amarone.  Further they identify approximately the same molecular amount to capture the Amarone aroma.  When other wine types were dissected similarly, those sixty or so molecules worked the same way in each case.  Unique vineyard conditions altered certain concentrations in molecules in grapes but nothing changed essentially.

The article then turned to studies of vineyards growing the same grapes across continents controlling for viticultural practices.  Among their conclusions were that altitude was more important than rainfall and the solution for methoxypyrazine was pruning foliage for more sunlight on the grapes, which is anticlimactic in a way.  Having isolated the sixty or so molecules, I would have thought they could have used their evil scientist dark side to construct some kind of Frankenstein wine which could have been sold to yuppies to turn them into zombies or something.

Actually I have mixed feelings about the article.  Obviously work like this will lead to improvements in winemaking.  On the other hand I think of that Twilight Zone episode set in a futuristic society that was all about conformity.  The plain looking but thoughtful girl was being pressured to undergo that society's change of appearance and personality to be transformed into a beautiful but clueless babe.  I kind of liked the girl the way she was.  If all wines are cleaned up to fit a one-size-fits-all profile, what do we lose in diversity?  Besides I kind of like a little methoxypyrazine in my wine.

Please join us for Friday's 5 to 8pm tasting and also consider being a follower here or I'll take your essential molecules and turn them into play-doh or something. 

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