Category Archives: Science

Science and wine

Winexpression to Close

I must fly away to another flowerAfter almost 8 years, I have decided that my Wine Blogging journey has come to an end. Thanks to all the readers, PR staff, and fellow wine bloggers that supported me through this journey. I have a few posts to finish up and will explain a bit more, but basically this forum has run it’s course in my life and I am ready to move on. I have valued the feedback I have received and thank you all for your support. Stay tuned for a few more posts with the most valuable wine lessons I’ve learned, tips for wine bloggers, and some final reviews and notes from recent tastings I have attended.

Best,

Jathan.

Resveratrol To Battle Multiple Sclerosis?

That polyphenol that keeps on giving, resveratrol is now being studied as an aid in the fight against MS.

Mice with the MS-like condition called Wallerian degeneration slow (WldS) showed an initial weight gain when given resveratrol, researchers at the University of Utah reported Thursday at the World Congress on Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, in Montreal.

Weight gain, that’s it? Can’t they just give these mice a gift card to Krispy Kreme and get the same results? Actually, the researchers comment that weight gain is an encouraging sign in MS treatment, especially when it’s from a compound found naturally in grapes and other foods. Dr. John Richert, executive vice president for the research and clinical program of the Multiple Sclerosis Society comments:

“In inflammatory animal models of MS, one of the tell-tale clinical signs of the disease is weight loss. Weight loss often goes hand in hand with loss of neurological function.”

Read [washingtonpost.com]

Note: I didn’t want to do it, but do to overwhelming comment spam, I have activated re-captcha, a comment captcha system that also helps with the digitization of old books and the defending of comment spam! You can read about it here. If you register here, you won’t have to enter a captcha everytime you comment.

You Too Can Be a Wine Tasting Expert

Paul Giamatti plays a wine snob in the movie SidewaysHow do those wine tasting professionals identify all those flavors in wine you ask? The answer is simple: they learned, and you can learn too, simply by drinking wine. Note a recent study by researchers at Northwestern University who aimed to learn how the brain differentiates between similar smells and modifies and updates that information based on experience:

In the study, researchers presented a single odor to human subjects continuously for 3 ½ minutes. Half of the subjects received a minty odor; the other half, a floral odor. The researchers discovered that this prolonged sensory exposure induced mint (or floral) “expertise,” depending on which odor the subjects had experienced. Those exposed to the minty smell were better able to differentiate between a variety of minty smells; likewise, the floral-exposed subjects could better discriminate among floral smells. In other words, study participants exposed to one minty odor became experts in other minty smells. Testing showed subjects retained their new expertise for at least 24 hours.

But is there such thing as a super taster? Probably not. Increased aroma sensitivity when tasting wine results in one thing: the overwhelming scent of Alcohol, not trace nuances in the beverage. Don’t believe me? Try a little experiment. Usually during a fasting period of 2 days or more, you will find that your sense of smell has dramatically increased (an unwelcome side effect of that is noticing people’s bad breath/ body oder). Now try and enjoy a glass of wine. Pure Glycerin. No subtle hints of orange blossoms or violets, just a big whiff of alcohol.

So there you have it. The wine snob super taster is a myth, it’s simply a person who has devoted more time to drinking wine than you have. Just learn to focus a little bit more the next time you enjoy a glass of wine. Compare what you are smelling to what you already know, or grab a few ingredients from your cupboard and compare. Wine is an enjoyable beverage. Don’t let anyone pompously come across as a better taster than you – you too can be a wine tasting expert.

Using Science to Pick Grapes

Grape bunch on the vineE & J Gallo is spearheading the automation of picking grapes during harvest in Modesto, CA, by employing spectroscopy and chromatography. This chemical analysis process provides extensive information about the aroma, color, taste and mouthfeel of the grapes, which helps the winery determine the ideal time for bringing in the harvest. Micheal Cleary, senior manager of grape and wine chemistry at E & J Gallo Winery, explains how it works:

Chromatography is a laboratory process for chemically separating mixtures into their component parts. Using this process, grapes can be analyzed for their molecular makeup. Molecules indicative of aroma, taste and feel to the palate can be identified and the grapes then harvested when these molecules are at their highest concentrations.

What does this mean for the wine industry? Well, previous advancements in grape analysis still hasn’t led some winemakers into using them. For example, Helen Turley simply relies on her palate at harvest, not even measuring brix levels like most winemakers. Of course, if you could record data about the grapes when she made her decision, you could ideally match that every year in the lab. The problem is, growing conditions aren’t the same every year, and a winemakers palate may lead them to make different decisions based on experience.

Read [Eurekalert.org]

Wine News This Week

A few stories worth a look:

Wine as an investment is up thanks to the Internet [Ledger-Enquirer.com]

The ban of liquids on planes in the U.S. is already hurting sales from some wineries. Normally, visitors to California’s wine regions buy a few souvenir bottles, and carry them on the plane when they head home, which is especially important if they live in a state that still doesn’t allow direct shipping. Wineries are now thoroughly packing wine so it can be included with the checked-in luggage. [KESQ.com]

Is white wine as healthy as red? A new study by scientists at the University of Connecticut and University of Milan claims that “the flesh of grapes is equally cardioprotective” as the skins. [UPI.com]

Wine Blogging Wednesday’s latest round-up, and next months theme have been posted.

Combatting Wine Fraud With Computers

HalWith the prices of wine futures soaring, and the large international market for rare bottles growing, fraudulent scammers and crooks are sure to take advantage of people by selling impostors and fakes. Traditionally, to combat fraudulent wine from being sold, professional tasters have been called in to make a determination on a bottle by tasting and comparing the wine for validity against his or her palate. Now, that process is closer to being automated by computer, as scientists from NEC’s System Technologies laboratory and Mie University, both in Japan, have developed a robot capable of comparing and identifying the unique characteristics that make up 30 different wines, with a larger field of recognition promised in the near future. Earlier in the year, students in Europe were essentially able to do the same thing, but the scientists were able to take it a step further by providing a comparison table for each bottle of wine analyzed.

Here’s how it works:

For analysis, a 5 millilitre sample of wine is poured into a tray in front of the machine. Light emitting diodes then fire infrared light at the sample and the reflected light is sensed by an array of photodiodes.

By identifying the wavelengths of infrared light that have been absorbed by the sample, NEC says the wine-bot can correctly identify the unique organic components of 30 popular wines within 30 seconds.

Simple and effective, and less prone to error than a human taster. Will advances in this field lead to the death of the wine critic in the future? Only time will tell.

Read [New Scientist Tech]

Analyzing Wine: Man vs. Machine

It appears that European students have gotten a little jump on Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation CSIRO, who have also been working on a virtual nose to identify specifics in wine; region, varietal, age, flavors, and even price. About 50 students from 7 universities in Europe competed in the FOSS challenge, a competition to reprogram the FOSS winescan analyzer, normally used during winemaking, to provide details about any wine. The winning team comprised of Kim Houng Ngo and Martin Andersen from Aalborg University, Denmark, put the product up against a team of wine experts and came up with almost identical results regarding the region, quality, and price level. The experts came closer on price, but the students produced results much faster.

Read [Chemie.DE] via Spittoon.

Cracking The Pinot Code

In what’s being called the agricultural equivalent of the first moonwalk (not MJ’s, the other one), Italian scientists have successfully sequenced the Pinot Noir genome. The San Michele all’Adige Agrarian Institute, the group responsible for the 6 year study, remarks that this development “will make it possible to create new, more resistant grape plants that can produce superior wines.”

This is the first fruit and the second food item, (rice was first), to have it’s gene sequenced.

The research shows that the pinot noir genome is spread across 12 chromosomes and is made up of around 500 million bases of DNA. The institute, based in the northern Italian province of Trento, collaborated in the project with the US firm Myriad Genetics Inc., which has taken part in decoding human and rice genomes.

Many wine lovers have expressed concern with the ethical, legal, and safety issues involved if winemakers were to begin using genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). Will the implied benefits of using GMO’s be enough to help consumers accept them? No doubt other varietals aren’t far behind Pinot Noir in being sequenced. It will be interesting to see how they are accepted by both winemaker and consumer.

Read [Ansa.it]

Famished Phylloxera Found In New Zealand


A vineyard in the Lowburn area of Central Otago, NZ has found the root louse Phylloxera present on it’s land. Martin Anderson of the Central Otago Wine Growers Association made the announcement. Given the seriousness of this problem, growers in the region are assessing their next move. Grafting to Phylloxera resistant rootstock is an option, but that’s expensive and would cease much of the grape production in the area until the new vines mature. Even still, grafting to the current phylloxera resistant rootstock doesn’t guarantee successful eradication of the pest.

Read [nzherald.co.nz]

Computers, Science, Wine and You

I saw this story last week, but I wasn’t motivated to post about it here. There is a company, Enologix, that basically has been doing the same thing for a long time.
What I find interesting is the take on this story that Non Wine Geeks (but geeks nonetheless) have on this subject.
When wine is broken down to complete science, everyone following hard and fast rules, will the finished product be devoid of diversity, a scientific clone? To some degree, this has already happened with the under $10 category. Many of these wines are made the exact same way and taste almost the same. But also at the high end this appears to be happening. How many high end Napa Valley wines have you had that tasted amazingly similar to each other?
This is the important place at which terrior steps in. The regionally diverse characteristics of land, climate, and weather will usually come through in your glass, regardless of how much science plays with the formula. The big problem to me seems that once you’re in a region, how much diversity will science take out? Even for tweaners (everyday affordable wines), the line between science and nature should be drawn somewhere.

Read [CNN]