28 Sep 2015

Where wine gets its regional flavour

2:11 pm on 28 September 2015

A new study has found yeasts play more of a role in the taste of wine from different regions than previously thought.


Photo: 123RF

Researchers have long considered regionally distinct tastes result from the blending of grape genes, local soils, climate and different agricultural practices.

University of Auckland researchers Sarah Knight and associate professor Mat Goddard spent 18 months researching different populations of a yeast used in fermentation, from six major wine-growing regions in New Zealand.

"We had suspicions that microbes do play a role in the unique flavours and aromas that we see, between different geographical regions. This study confirms that experimentally rather than just by hearsay," Ms Knight said.

She said previously it was thought the regional variations in wine and other agricultural products was due to environmental factors such as climate and soil.

A wine microbe.

A wine microbe. Photo: Supplied

But the idea that microbes, such as yeast, might play a role was not appreciated until recently.

Ms Knight said they found the genetically different populations of yeast produced distinctive flavour compounds as they converted sugar into alcohol.

"People tend to know that a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc tends to be quite distinct, quite fruity and tropical and we are seeing that come through in the genetic differentiation in the yeast," she said.

Ms Knight said the research could be very important because if it was true for wine, it might also be true for other agricultural crops.

"Our findings indicate the importance of characterising and understanding biodiversity and the services it may provide, and this could therefore be extended to other important agricultural commodities," she said.