Archive for the 'wine science' Category

Behold the drip-free wine bottle!

Wine drip stains on white tablecloths have a new nemesis and his name is Daniel Perlman. The biophysicist at Brandeis University discovered that all it took to eliminate the bane of (red) wine pourers everywhere is to etch a small groove at the top of the bottle under the lip. We can but hope this catches on widely.

drip-free-wine-bottleProfessor Perlman studied slo-mo videos of wine being poured from a bottle. He found that drips cling to side of a bottle because bottles are hydrophilic! Now if that sounds more than PG-13, don’t worry: it just means that the glass of the bottle attracts the drops of water (or wine) that then annoyingly cling to the side and make a big mess. He found that cutting a 2mm groove in the bottle with a diamond-studded cutting tool just below the lip was sufficient to break up the attachment issues between the glass and the wine. Behold the drip-free wine bottle! No wonder Perlman has 100 patents.

If this is effective and can be widely commercialized, then Perlman would have earned our enduring admiration–as well as a hallowed place at the eternal (stain-free) table aside Bacchus.

Brandeis University media release

Contents under pressure (Champagne)


During the recent week-long episode of “deflate-gate,” another dad at a youth basketball game leaned over and asked me, “How do you feel about the important matters of our day, such as Tom Brady’s balls?”

Frankly, I hadn’t heard so much talk about pounds per square inch since the last sparkling wine seminar I attended. So, for your reference, our senior pressure intern (PSI: balls and bottles) compiled the following infographic. Prosecco, from northeast Italy, has about 3.5 times atmospheric pressure in a bottle. Champagne bottle pressure is about 6 times (or, to sound super wonky, six bar). That explains the heavier bottle since it has to withstand more pressure. They are also made by different methods and use different grapes. Now, have a good date night. And don’t talk about football. 🙂

Meet the new critic: the electronic tongue

electronic tongue
Winemakers who make wines for critics, meet your new overlord: the electronic tongue!

Although artificial, or electronic, tongues have been developed before, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark have a breakthrough in their application to wine. Now, proteins from human saliva can be mixed with wine in the artificial tongue that can measure the effect of wine’s astringency, or tannins, on the tongue via a gold-plated nanosensor.

So welcome to the the new era of wine reviewing, where, instead of nonsense wine descriptors, the robo-tongue can just cut straight to the chase and spit out scores!

Full story

Nested wine glass aims to pace you

nested wine glass

Drink a glass of water for every glass of wine and you’ll emerge from the evening hangover-free. Such is common wisdom and some French design students have made some new nesting glassware, hand blown in Holland, that help drinkers comply with this maxim.

However, in his book Proof: the Science of Booze, Adam Rogers pours cold water on the idea. He writes that academic research on hangovers has not demonstrated dehydration, or a lower level of electolytes, as the cause of hangover severity.

So I guess it’s a good thing the the designers of the nested wine glass told Dezeen that their main goal is to reduce the over-consumption of alcohol, not prevent hangovers. Apparently having a little water after wine will slow the guzzlers down? Well, even if not, enjoy the cool glasses.

Pedro Parra digs dirt

pedro_parraWine enthusiasts know that where grape vines grow can contribute to the flavors of the resulting wine. But Pedro Parra has decided to dig a little deeper: the “terroir consultant” has excavated over 20,000 holes to study vineyard soils.

Based in Chile but trained in Paris, the Chilean has more views about soil than your average wine consumer. For one, he tries to drink only wines from a certain soil type, rather than amorphous blends. And even there, not even all soils pass the sniff test: clay soils produce wines that are too fruity and sweet for him, with sensations in the front of the mouth that he admits have broad appeal, though just not for him. He’s more of a schist, granite or limestone man.

To illustrate the flavor profiles of each type of soil, Read more…

Talking terroir: Taste the wine microbes!


A glass of pinot noir from one place often tastes different from a glass of pinot noir from another distant site. While it’s hard to control all the variables such as grape ripeness and winemaking, the resulting differences are often ascribed to the terroir, or growing microclimate. It’s such a powerful yet nebulous concept that the French institutional structure for most winemaking (the AOC system) is based on protecting terroir.

However, a study that appeared today by some American researchers suggests something less prosaic: microbes. The fungi and bacteria that appear on grapes and subsequently in pre-fermented juice (called “must”) affect the rate of the fermentation. They appear to have stable characteristics within regions but vary across regions according to data amassed from 273 samples for the study. The researchers, David Mills and Nicholas Bokulich of UC Davis as well as John Thorngate of Constellation Brands and Paul Richardson of MicroTrek, Inc., used new methods of studying genomic sequencing to arrive at their findings, published in The Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

“The reason I love this study is that it starts to walk down a path to something we could actually measure, David Mills was quoted as saying in the New York Times’ account of the study.

The findings are both interesting and possibly powerful. All things being equal, wines from different places do tend to taste different; if wine microbes can explain the science behind terroir, so much the better. Where this powerful insight could veer into a vinous horror film is if microbes can be harnessed or replicated to make wines from less expensive regions approximate wines from more expensive regions.

But, then again, maybe it wouldn’t be that disruptive since people who pay up are often drinking the label, as it were, rather than what’s inside the bottle.

Decanting decanting

decanting_wineAnother decanting article = sigh, right?

I gave the topic a whirl in an article over on to separate the good advice from the sediment.

I am not even synthesizing it here since it would be as reduced as a young Cornas; uncork something and surf over to check out the whole article.

Did you hear the one about the grizzlies, the pandas and the vintner?


Climate change threatens to redraw the wine map over the next few decades. That we know. A new paper suggests that the establishment of new vineyards in cooler areas will endanger the habitat of animals ranging from grizzlies to pandas.

The findings seem to be structured to grab headlines and cause alarm–who would ever want to hurt pronghorn elk or pandas in the quest for a glass of pinot noir? Sure, the wine industry might need a prod to improve water management or reduce pesticide use. But are there concrete examples where vineyards have threatened habitats and how the potential conflicts were resolved successfully or not? In the absence of such concrete examples, it seems a bit like a bogeyman. I visited vineyards in Constantia last year, right up against the Cape of Good Hope nature preserve, which has abundant biodiversity and the vintners there spoke of living with baboon raids on grapes and how there was little they could do about it.

The paper largely ignores practicality and politics. If the climate is changing, wouldn’t there be other (e.g. housing) development pressure in cooler areas? Would other shifts in the environment of the wildlife alter the habitat more than a fenced-in vineyard? And what about preservation efforts–land use regulations in Napa, for example, essentially rendered hillside vineyard development impossible over a decade ago. And pointing to the declining vineyard area of Algeria is a red herring since it was once administratively part of mainland France at the height of French wine consumption, only to have the market removed after independence.

The map of the world’s vineyards will indubitably include new lands 50 years from now and it’s good that the paper again brings this into the popular discussion. New vineyards should be developed in a responsible way, using policy and including consideration for wildlife. But if we’re all drinking grand cru Montana in 2050, we’re going to have a lot more to think about than wine–and so will the grizzlies. Read more…


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