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Researchers study effects of alcohol concentration in wine

Alcohol chemical level can affect sensory perception, mouthfeel, aromatic effects

The+WSU+Tri-Cities+campus+in+Richland+hosts+the+Ste.+Michelle+Wine+Estates+WSU+Wine+Science+Center.+This+study+can+help+wine+producers+make+better+decisions+about+when+to+harvest+grapes+for+winemaking.
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Researchers study effects of alcohol concentration in wine

The WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland hosts the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center. This study can help wine producers make better decisions about when to harvest grapes for winemaking.

The WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland hosts the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center. This study can help wine producers make better decisions about when to harvest grapes for winemaking.

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland hosts the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center. This study can help wine producers make better decisions about when to harvest grapes for winemaking.

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland hosts the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center. This study can help wine producers make better decisions about when to harvest grapes for winemaking.

CAMERON SHEPPARD, Evergreen reporter

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Research done by scientists at WSU suggests that a wine’s alcohol concentration may play a larger role than other properties of the wine in determining its taste, aroma and mouthfeel.

Jim Harbertson, an associate professor of enology, said the study involved producing wines of different alcohol concentrations and comparing them to wines made from grapes of varied maturity. The wines were blind-taste-tested by a panel of trained tasters for a descriptive analysis of their flavors and properties.

He said this study provides a basis to help winemakers understand how alcohol concentration affects the flavor, aroma and mouthfeel of their wine.

“We wanted to understand what elements are present that are really affecting things,” Harbertson said.

He said alcohol has a lot of chemical effects that influence the sensory perception of wine more than flavor alone. Alcohol can affect the viscosity and body of wine. It can inhibit a nerve response, causing a hot or burning feeling. It can also have aromatic effects. 

Harbertson said wine producers typically look to use the maturity of their grapes to determine the quality and characteristics of their wine.

“Every year people spend tons of money and time sending people out to vineyards to take samples to evaluate maturity,” Harbertson said.

Using samples to evaluate the maturity of grapes can be difficult and inaccurate, he said, as each plant on the vineyard ripens at different rates.

“This problem is universal,” Harbertson said. “Everyone who makes wine in the world has the same problem.”

Kay Simon, a wine producer at Chinook Wines and collaborator on this study, said soluble solids like sugars increase in grapes as they mature, and this subsequently affects the ethanol content of the wine, so deciding when to harvest grapes is important for wine style and quality.

Harbertson said this study will help wine producers understand what characteristics their wine will assume if they harvest their grapes earlier or later in the season.

“They can … start making more informed decisions about what they are doing,” he said.

About the Writer
CAMERON SHEPPARD, Evergreen reporter

Cameron is a junior multimedia journalism and public relations major from Tacoma, Washington.

3 Comments

3 Responses to “Researchers study effects of alcohol concentration in wine”

  1. Julius Orth on April 12th, 2019 4:01 pm

    It would be nice if the article were to explain….is alcohol concentration and alcohol level the same thing? It implies that lower alcohol wines have less of a sensory effect? is a higher or lower viscosity desirable? is a higher or lower alcohol concentration desirable or is there a magical “sweet spot”?

  2. Janice on April 12th, 2019 5:29 pm

    I’ve been making wine for over 30 years, and this is a “no duh” result. Of course the alcohol affects viscosity (ever heard of “legs”?), mouthfeel, etc. What were the specific results? For example, does higher alcohol mask tanins? How do they take into account that as the grapes ripen, not only does the sugar go up (and thus the alcohol level after fermentation) but also the acid goes down. How do they control these simultaneous changes in the grapes?

  3. Warner Johannes on April 12th, 2019 6:53 pm

    I’ve been tasting wine for over 50 years and I’m highly sensitive to alcohol content at or above 14%. With that kind of alcohol content the alcohol suddenly overwhelms everything. Number one the heat is obtrusive and it thins the wine by physical feel . Also, I drink wine for its flavors and complexity and do not enjoy any feeling of intoxication wish I always do from higher alcohol. In light of this I drink Oregon Pinot Noir in French burgundy with great love.

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Researchers study effects of alcohol concentration in wine