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Why Can Identical Bottles of Wine From The Same Vineyard and Vintage Taste Different to One Another?

Have you ever wondered why identical bottles of wine can taste different to one another even if they are from the same vineyard and vintage? New research by Mathabatha Setati and colleagues D Jacobson, U-C Andong and F Bauer from Stellenbosch University, South Africa, may have the answer. Their research, The Vineyard Yeast Microbiome, a Mixed Model Microbial Map published at PLoS oNE showed that different microbes (in this case yeasts) present on the grapes contribute to differences in the flavours and aromas of the wine:

Vineyards harbour a wide variety of microorganisms that play a pivotal role in pre- and post-harvest grape quality and will contribute significantly to the final aromatic properties of wine. The aim of the current study was to investigate the spatial distribution of microbial communities within and between individual vineyard management units.”

The research team studied the microbial communities present at three vineyards on the same terroir growing the same grape (Cabernet Sauvignon) the Polkadraai region in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Each vineyard used a different method of vineyard management: Organic, Traditional or Biodynamic.

What the team discovered was that the different methods of cultivation had a significant impact on the number and variety of yeasts present. What’s more, they found that different combinations of yeasts could alter the taste of wine in different ways in the same vineyard. This explains why identical bottles of wine from the same vineyard and same vintage can taste different.

They found that the same yeast species dominated all 3 vineyards but the biodynamic cineyard, being the least treated, had the most variety of yeasts leading to the most variety in flavour.

Cultivation-based methods confirmed that while the same oxidative yeast species dominated in all vineyards, the least treated vineyard displayed significantly higher species richness, including many yeasts with biocontrol potential.”

They also found that within a single vineyard, small differences between vines, such as in temperature or sun exposure, could significantly alter the composition of the fungal community on grape surfaces.

Setati said that “our findings could help viticulturalists and winemakers plan microharvest better, and implement better wine blending strategies to ensure consistency.”

Blending wines has long been practised in Bordeaux to ensure consistency of style and quality of wine and it’s interesting to see the research and science that confirm the reasoning behind this centuries old practice.

In Bordeaux the permitted grape varieties are not grown mixed together but in separate parcels (plots). They are harvested and fermented at different times and the art of the skilled winemaker is to create a blend which keeps the best characteristics of each grape variety whilst weaving them together to craft the final wine. The end result is a wine of consitent quality and balance that brings out the best of the year’s vintage, the terroir and style of the particular vineyard. It’s an intricate process but it does ensure a good wine!

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4 Responses to Why Can Identical Bottles of Wine From The Same Vineyard and Vintage Taste Different to One Another?

  1. Peter May says:

    Happy New Year to you, Nick and long may you continue to blog these informative and interesting posts..

    I think the above argument is faulty because while the different areas of the vineyard may have different yeast on the grapes, and grow differently, they won’t each be vinified and bottled separately under the identical label.

    When talking about Bordeaux blends the reference is to blending different varieties. But ALL wines – including mono-variety – are blends. They are a blend of all the grapes from the vineyard, they are blends of the different barrels of those wines, the wine goes into a large tank before bottling to get homogenity.

    Those different yeasts on the skins will be killed by the application of SO2 at harvest and/or the use of ‘killer’ yeasts.

    Yes, one does get differences between bottles of the same wine, but that is IMO post bottling development, down to how and where the wine is kept, oxygen transmission, and status of the closure.

    • Nick says:

      Thanks Peter, much appreciated! I am honoured that you pop by and read my blogs :-) I often pop over to http://www.pinotage.org/ as Pinotage is a fascinating wine and I think it should be more heralded as Africa’s signature grape variety. And thank you for clarifying the position on blends in wines. Yeasts area topic that I find very interesting and I’d love to do some in depth research about them – especially for folks who suffer from the Red Wine Headache. One day I will get enough time to sit down and study them (hopefully!).



  2. Peter May says:

    On very large production wines, something never talked about is the lot number. There can be differences between different lots and wine reviews of them that do not their lot number are of little validity.