jamie goode's wine blog: Rotundone: a chemical in wine responsible for pepper aromas

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Rotundone: a chemical in wine responsible for pepper aromas

The Australian Wine Research Institute is responsible for some of the best wine research currently being done. One recent, newsworthy project has been the identification of a compound responsible for pepperiness in Australian Shiraz. Called rotundone, it is found in lots of herbs and vegetables, and itís incredibly potent. For example, just 5 mls of rotundone would be enough to make all wine in Australia taste spicy. Finding it in wine is tricky, though, because of this potency: itís like trying to identify one person out of six billion. Technically speaking, rotundone is a sesquiterpene.

The aim of this research? Itís to provide Australian winemakers or viticulturalists with the management techniques to be able to moderate spiciness in their wines. However, itís also of interest that a proportion of people Ė as many as a fifth Ė simply canít smell rotundone. This is one of the most fascinating of all the findings to me. The AWRI researchers state:
Whereas most of the sensory panelists were sensitive to rotundone, approximately
20% could not detect this compound, even in water, at the highest concentration tested (4000 ng/L). Thus, the sensory experience of two consumers enjoying the same glass of Shiraz wine or sharing the same meal seasoned with pepper might be very different. The variation in individual sensitivity to rotundone suggests that the way wines containing this compound are assessed by consumers or wine judges could vary substantially from one person to another. Similarly, the flavor perception of ground pepper might vary considerably among consumers. This is supported by the common practice of pepper being placed on the table or offered to individuals by restaurant waiters

You can access the original research papers here and here.

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At 12:55 PM, Blogger Tallahassee Wine Guy said...

I'm always interested in info re the chemical bases that produce any of the many flavors expressed by wine. Are you aware of any wine makers adding rotundone to their wines?


At 1:22 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

no, it would be totally illegal and very naughty

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Louis Martini said...

That small amount of rotundone is able to make the entire continent's supply of wine spicy...? It seems like our senses (or the senses of 4/5ths of us), are really, really sensitive to the presence of this chemical.

At 8:08 PM, OpenID ithacork said...

jamie: the most interesting thing about this for me is the 20% anosmia! i wonder if there is such broad anosmia in other terpenes.

TWG: while they can't add rotundone, this discovery (and how the compound is formed) could encourage winemakers to implement viticultural and/or enological practices that increase the amount of rotundone produced in the wine.


At 6:27 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

I also find the anosmia really interesting - it suggests that to a degree, we may all be living in subtly different worlds when it comes to taste and smell

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Couves said...

So is this the same compound that makes black pepper taste like black pepper?

I know that a similar compound has been found to produce the "anise" flavor in herbs and spices.

Wouldn't it be interesting to find that the wine reviewer's free association game could actually be verified by lab tests?! I hope you guys have a union ;)

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Camoranesi said...

Hi Couves,

Yes, it is. Or to be more correct, it's present at extremely high levels in pepper (both black and white, for the record). And you're absolutely right: wine chemists are tracking down these things, with the help of GC-O (aka GC sniff) machines. See also cat pee in Sauvignon.

At 4:38 PM, Blogger jr said...

NY Times did a piece on this last year:



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