Open fermenters at Maladinha Nova
in Portugal's Alentejo
Introduction: Why wine science?
An exploration of the way the scientific world functions; discussing
why science is useful; looking at the sorts of questions that science
can address; the rise of antiscience; and why this book isn't a guide to
Section 1: in the vineyard
1. Grape vine physiology
How the grape vine functions; how this relates to wine quality
Terroir: how do soils and climate shape wines?
Terroir is emerging as the unifying theory of fine wine. But there's
still a lot of controversy surrounding it. What do we mean by 'terroir'?
How does it work? What do winemakers think about it? What about terroir
in the new world?
using aerial and satellite monitoring to target interventions
PV is a hot topic in the world of wine. The idea is, if you can
understand heterogeneity (the differences between different bits) in
your vineyard, you can manage it more effectively by targeting
treatments and interventions just where they are needed.
4. Global climate change and its implications for
This chapter doesn't need much explanation: the world is getting
hotter, it seems, and humans may be responsible. What are the
consequences likely to be for the world of wine? This chapter looks at
the data addressing this highly pertinent topic.
5. Genetically modified grape vines
Hugely controversial: scientists are busy working on genetically
modifying grapevines in the hope that the public antipathy towards this
technology will die down. It's a complex subject, and not as clear-cut
as many are suggesting. On the one hand, fungus-resistant GM vines would
alleviate the need for much of the spraying that takes place currently.
On the other hand, the emergence of a handful of GM varieties would
threaten the diversity of wine we currently enjoy.
6. Lutte raisonée and integrated pest management
The elegant science of IPM, which aims to precisely target vineyard
treatments and interventions on the basis of knowledge, offers a third
way between industrial viticulture and organics/biodynamics. It's taking
off, and is being implemented enthusiastically by vignerons worldwide.
7. Biodynamic viticulture
Currently a hot topic: the ranks of biodynamic vignerons continue to
swell. It seems to work, but how? This is the question that fascinates
8. Phylloxera: how science saved wine
A look back at the chilling plague that threatened to wipe out wine
globally, which was unleashed some 150 years ago. Its legacy remains
with us today in that almost all vines are grafted onto phylloxera-resistant
9. Partial root zone drying and regulated deficit
More elegant science at work: if you turn off the water at just the
right time, you can emulate the physical properties of some very famous
terroirs, and improve wine quality while at the same time conserving
10. Trellising systems and canopy management
Have you ever wondered why vineyards look the way they do? Read this
chapter to find out.
Section 2: in the winery
11. Barrels and the impact of oak on the flavour
We don't talk about them all that much, but barrels are crucial to
wine quality (when they are used). As well as imparting flavour
directly, they allow controlled exposure to small amounts of oxygen.
Scientists are now beginning to quantify the effects of barrels and
their alternatives on wine.
A really interesting and fairly controversial technique that
involves deliberately exposing wine to small amounts of oxygen. Who's
using it? Why? And what are its effects?
13. Naturalness in wines: how much manipulation is
It's possible to make wine without adding anything at all - but
virtually no one does. The long list of potential additions to wine make
some people rather sceptical that there can be such a thing as 'natural'
wine, while others argue that this is an important concept. Who's right?
Yeasts and wild yeast fermentations
Yeasts are crucial to wine quality, but they aren't discussed much.
Is it better to use native or wild yeasts for fermentation, or are best
results obtained by using cultured yeasts? Is this distinction even
useful? I also take a look at malolactic fermentation and the potential
for engineered yeasts to achieve various winemaking objectives.
Another controversial subject. The spoilage yeast brettanomyces is
more widespread than you'd think, and a current topic of heated
discussion is whether a bit of brett can ever be a good thing. I also
look at the effects of brett on wine quality and how it can best be
16. Reverse osmosis, spinning cones and evaporators: alcohol reduction
and must concentration
I can't seem to stay away from these controversial topics. Here I
look at technologies for reducing alcohol levels, souping wines up and
getting rid of volatile acidity.
Sulphur dioxide in winemaking
Sulphur dioxide is a crucial tool for winemakers to protect their
wines from the effects of oxidation and unwanted microbial growth. It's
almost universally used. But at high levels it causes problems. Here I
look at ways that winemakers can best use this chemical guardian of wine
quality, and at attempts to make wine without it altogether.
Reduction: volatile sulphur compounds in wine
Hot topic alert. Reduction refers to the sensory effects of sulphur-containing
compounds which are present in wine. Reduction is usually a fault, but
current thinking on the topic is that winemakers can harness a low level
of reduction as a way of gaining complexity. Could it also be that
reduction is sometimes confused with terroir?
Closures: the cork taint debate
Cork, a wonderful natural substance ideally suited to sealing wine
bottles with, is flawed. What are the alternatives? Do they work as
well? This is currently a subject that's the source of a bitter feud in
the world of wine. I choose to focus on the data here, not the rhetoric.
3: our interaction with wine
Flavour and its perception
It's strange that a subject so central to wine (we drink the
stuff...that's what it is for) has received relatively little attention
by the trade. This wide-ranging chapter looks at the perception of wine
and potential inter-individual differences.
Wine and the brain
Continuing from the previous chapter, here I take a look at how the
brain processes flavour. Some interesting recent data on this
fascinating topic are discussed.
22. Wine flavour chemistry
Why does wine taste the way it does? A tour of the different
chemical entities that make up this wonderful liquid.
23. Wine and health: is it good for you?
This was a complicated chapter to write. There are lots of studies
out there on the potential health benefits of wine, but any reading of
this literature has to be done critically. Some studies claim to show
things they don't, and there's the problem of confounding to take into
Extending lifespan by drinking wine?
This chapter discusses the intriguing suggestion that wine could be
affecting mechanisms of ageing in a positive way. It's an engrossing
story, but one that is far from settled. A good case study of how
Another complicated chapter. People frequently report adverse
reactions to wine, but it's difficult to know what in the wine they are
Bibliography: further reading
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