The Science of Wine: Some New Data

wine science A couple recent developments in the science of wine are noteworthy. In the never ending debates about terroir and minerality, studies by geologist Andrew Maltman confirm that what we wine yakkers call “minerality” is not “the taste of the soil”. As reported to Decanter’s Andrew Jefford, Maltman claims:

Any mineral solutes present in wine, he says, exist at levels well below the threshold for detection, and if they could be tasted would taste unpleasant anyway; furthermore, as far as flavour creation in wine grapes is concerned, “the real action is up on the vine”, via photosynthetic processes, rather than down in the roots

So references to minerality, stone, or slate in describing the sensory impressions of a wine are metaphorical and not to be taken as literal descriptions of wine components.

Wines do take up minerals, geology does matter in determining how a wine tastes, and minerality is a detectable flavor note in many wines, but there is no direct causal connection between the minerals taken up and the flavor of the wine.

But there is new evidence that the shape of the glass does influence the taste and aroma of wine. Palate Press has a comprehensive discussion of this issue. In this experiment:

The sensory team poured the same Gewürtztraminer into five “glasses”: a Zweisel Bordeaux glass, an IKEA white wine glass, an IKEA red wine glass, a standard INAO tasting glass, and an Erlenmeyer flask. Each of these, after sitting for zero or five or ten minutes, was held up against the upper lip of a blindfolded panelist for twenty-five seconds. Panelists then ranked the strength of the aroma by fruity, floral, chemical, alcohol/hot, and total aroma intensity; no resmells. Generally speaking, the Bordeaux glass and the INAO glass tended to emphasize the fruity and floral elements of the Gewürtztraminer, while the IKEA red wine glass emphasized hot and chemical qualities. The IKEA white wine glass ended up somewhere in the middle, and the Erlenmeyer flask data was tossed out (for sniffing, not for the chemical analysis), because the panelists could tell the difference between the thick, rolled rim of the Erlenmeyer and the thin rim of the wine glasses; they couldn’t distinguish between the feel of the other wine glasses by upper-lip touch alone. Likewise, chemical analysis showed significant differences in the concentration of multiple aromatic molecules in the glass headspace; in other words, glass shape alone caused different aroma compounds to emerge into the air (thereby becoming smellable) in different ways.

So the next time your friends think you’re being too fussy about wine glasses you can now show them that effete, geeky, snobbish behavior is sanctioned by science. Which will just make you seem more effete, geeky, and snobbish.


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