Let’s raise a glass

While you’re enjoying a glass of wine over Christmas, you might wonder about how science can benefit winemaking.  The Wine Standards Board merged with the Agency back in the summer so I now have plenty of opportunity to find out.

Advice about sensible drinking often refers to the fact that the alcoholic strength of wine has been increasing over the years as our taste has developed for full-bodied wines from the hotter wine-producing regions of the New World.

I’ve recently learned about the spinning cone technique. This allows the winemaker to harvest grapes at full ripeness, with all the benefits of enhanced flavour and aromas, but without the (often inevitable) high alcohol levels and ‘hotness’ that can mask the fruit flavours.

Its proponents argue that you get a better result through adding alcohol back into the product in controlled amounts, allowing the winemaker to hit the ‘sweet spot’ where alcohol and flavour are perfectly in balance.

Developed in Australia, the spinning cone column consists of an alternating series of fixed and rotating inverted stainless steel cones, contained in an evacuated vertical steel cylinder, in which an inert stripping gas removes from turbulent thin liquid films a vapour stream of volatile compounds.

At the moment it is illegal to use the spinning cone technique or reverse osmosis, a competing alcohol reduction method, for wines sold in the EU.

However, it may be allowed to a limited extent in the future because the current review of the EU wine regime is aimed at allowing old world and new world wines to compete on more equal terms.

I’m signing off now until the New Year, so in the meantime, cheers… and a Happy Christmas to you all!