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SA REDS ANALYSIS TASTING UPDATE

 

Over the years the UK wine media has commented on certain aromas which are being picked up in, and are considered distinct to, South African red wines. Descriptions have included rubbery, burnt, smokey, green, singed, under ripe, earthy and dirty. Many acknowledge that the quality of South African wines is improving year on year, but that the reds are lagging behind whites.

While there are many opinions on the origins of, and factors underlying, this aroma, there is no definitive answer. Wines of South Africa has initiated some research and the University of Stellenbosch has agreed to a project, along with industry research organisation, Winetech, in order to define this aroma, with the overall objective being to isolate its nature and origin and to educate growers and wine producers, with scientifically proven knowledge.

To give the University some guidance, a tasting was conducted in London, by a group of respected tasters, to identify wines that had clear examples of this character. 60 wines were tasted, with a small number of non South African wines in the mix. The wines were tasted in flights and were tasted blind; there was no discussion of the wines during the tasting. The tasters were asked to give the wine a quality rating, out of 20; the RRP was given to the tasters to allow a quality/price assessment, and to note when they found the characteristics outlined above.

The tasting results were very helpful in giving guidance to the University. Of the South African wines, a small number of wines were found to have very clear examples of this character, in that eight or more of the tasters picked up on them. The same number of South African wines was found to be clear of these aromas, in that two or less tasters picked up on them. Interestingly the four top scoring wines were in the latter group. Aside from this small number of wines at either end of the scale there was a large middle ground where between three and seven of the tasters picked up these aromas i.e. there was no consistency. There were many instances where the tasters noted a distinct South African character but not a negative one.

The University was supplied with two sets of wines - the suspects and the clean control samples.  Several rounds of tastings have been concluded in South Africa and the research team is confident that they have a grasp of the aroma in question and a solid line-up of wines to work with. 

Microbiological and chemical analysis, including HPLC, GC-FID, GC-MS and infrared spectroscopy is already in progress to establish whether specific microbiological or chemical profiles can be linked to the character. Investigations in the field will commence in June.  Each wine, whether problematic or not, will be researched and traced back, literally to its roots, to identify common denominators which can lead the research project to a conclusive result.  Parallel to this phase, a gas-chromatography-olfactory analysis (GC-O) will also commence, with the objective to identify specific chemical compounds that are responsible for this character.

A time-line is difficult to set, given that each step of the project will have several possible outcomes and will in turn impact on the next step.  If it appears that the cause of the flavour is complex and not due to a single factor, this will also delay the outcome.

The South African wine industry continues to see a positive performance on the export and domestic markets, with exports exceeding 300 million cases for the first time at the end of 2007, a goal the industry did not envisage achieving before at least 2010. Global exports are up 35% for the first quarter of 2008 and exports to the UK are up 17% from January to April 2008, when compared to the same period a year ago. 

ENDS

Date: 2nd June 2008