'Cat's pee' wine aroma excites scientists

An academic who is part of a $1.6 million research project to investigate the aromas of New Zealand's premier wine variety, sauvignon blanc, says it may lead to new styles of the wine for different markets.

Professor Richard Gardner, of Auckland University's school of biological sciences, said the programme was also intended to have practical outcomes that would allow winemakers to produce better quality wine, consistent styles between years and sauvignon blanc wines that held their aroma for longer.

Today his team of researchers will present Get Savvy About Aromas to the wine industry's Romeo Bragato conference in Queenstown, canvassing some findings from the project.

Professor Gardner said practical outcomes from the research might include new technologies for analysing grape juice; recommendations for vineyard management, juice handling and wine storage; and new yeast strains.

The wine with a whiff of "cat's pee on a gooseberry bush" has driven the export success of the wine industry. More than 80 per cent of it comes from Marlborough, where plantings of just 144ha of the variety in 1989 soared to 4000ha in a decade.

The pungent wine divides drinkers and critics, but its unique racy character has won a legion of fans in Britain and the United States.

Some critics of the variety - as it is grown in New Zealand - have slammed it as "young, green and nasty", but even though production rose by by 53 per cent in the past year, it has not been enough to satisfy overseas demand.

Professor Gardner said the conference would showcase some of the work done on sauvignon blanc since 2004 with the Government money, including chemical analysis of aroma compounds and the effects of different viticultural practices and of skin contact and different yeast strains.

The research is aimed at defining the chemical components of sauvignon blanc aroma, understanding why wines made from the cultivar in New Zealand differ from those overseas, and developing new styles suited to different markets.

Researchers are also trying to determine how vineyard management affects levels of the aroma components and to understand the contribution different yeast strains make.

- NZPA

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