This past November the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) published a comprehensive special report that reviews the cutting-edge research its teams of scientists are conducting in the areas of wine-growing and oenology. From the determinants of taste to the link between a wine and its terroir, here is a quick review of INRA’s top research fields.

Tasting as the center of attention

How does the taste of wine develop?

Where do its aromas come from? Several teams at INRA devote their time to the sensory analysis of wine. Their research sheds light on a clearer definition of the sensory profiles of wines and a better understanding of the mechanisms related to pleasure or rejection. Since the 1970s, specialists have sought to identify the aromas in wine, their elemental flavors and their molecular origins. Their discoveries have revealed that flavor descriptors such as “banana,” “floral” or “fruity” indicate butyl acetate and “apricot” or “honey” suggest ethyl beta-phenylacetate, while “truffle” tends to correspond to dimethyl sulphide.

©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr

©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr

How does a wine change its color?

Several factors can influence the robe (color) of a wine. Such differences, and notably the differentiation between white and red grapes, are above all linked to genetic variations in the content of anthocyanins. But the synthesis of pigments is also dependent on ripeness, climatic conditions and, above all, the intensity of solar radiation. A lack of sunshine produces grapes that are only lightly colored, which is why northern regions mainly cultivate white grape varieties. Two other parameters define whether a red, white or rose wine will be obtained: the timing of pressing and the duration of maceration.

Wine and terroir, a family resemblance

Strongly colored,” “concentrated,” “lingering in the mouth,” “heavy and rounded,” with aromas of black and red fruits: that is the style of AOC wines (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée : controlled designation of origin) from Anjou-Villages-Brissac, in the Loire Valley. This typicality is a mixture of originality, authenticity and quality that is linked to the terroir. INRA researchers have developed models by studying the terroir system as a whole. An appellation area is not defined just by its soils, varieties, landscapes or sensory profiles, but is rather a particular “ecosystem” that is constantly evolving and encompasses soils, varieties and human practices that will not produce the same wines.

Climate change: which wines for tomorrow?

Because of the importance of terroirs, climate change is a huge challenge for winegrowers. Thus, in each winegrowing region, stakeholders are mobilizing their efforts and envisaging levers for possible adaptations, which include selecting later varieties or those producing less sweet grapes.

Innovations from harvest to the bottle: the technical innovation in wine
Although they are constantly enriching their knowledge of the chemistry of wine, INRA scientists have also been the inventors of technological processes that are already disseminated throughout the world. The removal of alcohol, the “flash-detente” process, aroma capture, tangential microfiltration, etc., are all innovations that can optimize the production, stabilization and packaging of wine.

©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr

©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr

New wines for new trends
As concerns about public health and road safety have risen and changes in dietary behavior have occurred, INRA researchers have been developing high-quality, reduced-alcohol wines (VDQA), with levels between 6% and 12%. They also work on the development of organic wines. Researchers examine the effect of switching to organic management or work on the improvement of vine varieties that are adapted to these specific viticultural practices.

Find out more about the extraordinary complexity of winemaking through INRA’s top research by reading the whole document