New research sheds light on flavour additives in wine

WINE DRINKERS ARE not only more accepting of natural flavourings in wine than they are of traditional additives, but new research shows they also prefer the taste.
University of Adelaide PhD student Yaelle Saltman is investigating the potential of natural flavour additives to lift the quality of average-tasting wines in the $10-15 bracket.
'What I am researching is how to take lesser quality wines, perhaps due to a poor vintage such as the wet 2010-11 season, and improve their aroma, complexity and flavour,' Saltman said.
The research, which will be presented this month at the Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference, draws on results from Saltman's earlier work which showed that consumers are generally accepting of natural flavourings in wine.
The findings were based on a nationwide consumer survey of about 1300 people, which questioned respondents' acceptance of additives in food and wine according to their level of knowledge.
Respondents were asked to rank on a scale of one to nine their level of acceptance of possible additives to wine for flavour enhancement. The list of additives included natural and artificial flavourings as well as many that are already commonly used in winemaking such as preservatives, acid, oak chips, milk and egg whites.
Saltman said the respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of natural flavour additives being added to wine.
'The most interesting finding was that natural flavours were significantly more accepted than many additives already used in wine such as preservatives and tartaric acid,' Saltman said.
Natural flavourings ranked about seven out of nine, while tartaric acid ranked around three and artificial flavourings were completely rejected.
'When it comes to natural flavours, consumers have shown they are quite accepting which is really good because it's given us the green light to look at how natural flavourings can enhance wine quality,' Saltman said.
In addition to accepting natural flavour additives, consumers have also shown they prefer the wines that contain natural flavour additions over those without them.
In reaching this conclusion, Saltman formed consumer focus groups for participants to blind taste four prototype wines that had been developed by adding one or more flavours to the base wines (two Chardonnay and two Shiraz).
Data collected from consumer focus groups found that most consumers found the flavoured wines to be more complex, to have a pleasant mouth feel, an uplifting nose and to be less bitter.
When asked if they would consider purchasing/drinking wines with added natural flavours the majority of consumers (in particular consumers younger than 35) indicated they would drink/buy such wines provided 'they tasted better'.
While current laws prohibit the addition of flavourings to wine, Saltman believes her research has the potential to change the mindset of industry about what has traditionally been a controversial topic.
'If we can improve the quality of lower price point wines and consumers are accepting of this practice, then why not use it? Natural flavour additives could help Australian wines compete with other New World producers at similar price points,' she said.
As well as a researcher, Saltman is also a winemaker and has experienced vintage in several regions including Bordeaux, Napa Valley and New Zealand. She says she appreciates the concerns that some winemakers might have.
'As a winemaker, I'm all for natural flavourings in wine - but with limitations,' she said.
'The question is how far you can go to improve wine quality while maintaining consumer acceptance.'
She said another challenge will be for the industry to decide how to define a 'flavour additive'.
'There are quite a lot of additives that are used in wine today that consumers don't know about, such as oak. While it's considered a processing aid, all it really does is generate oak flavours in the wine,' Saltman said.
'So the industry has ways of adding flavour that benefit the wine without actually making reference to the use of flavour additives. The challenge for industry will be to define what exactly a 'flavour additive' is.'

Wine rules and the law
The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code - Standard 4.5.1 - interprets wine as: 'the product of the complete or partial fermentation of fresh grapes, or a mixture of that product and products derived solely from grapes'.The Code lists several additives and processing aids that can be used in the production of wine, none of which include artificial flavourings or natural flavourings.
Wine Australia's general manager, regulatory advice Steve Guy says the reason the Code does not allow for the addition of flavourings is a historical one.
'From a health and safety point of view, there's no reason why flavourings cannot be added. But if you extract flavours from other fruit into wine, you start blurring the boundaries of what wine is,' Guy said.
He says wine could risk losing its status as the 'product of grapes' if the Code was to be changed to include flavourings.
'The idea of adding natural flavourings to wine comes up against the pretty well established integrity of wine. To start extracting flavours from other fruits or vegetables for wine would interfere with that integrity,' he said.
Even if the law was to be changed, Guy says there would be issues around export.
'I can't think of a wine-drinking country, Old World or New World, that would allow a product with flavour additions to be described as wine,' he said.
'If there's a desire and will on part of the wine industry to change the law, it could be done - but it would need to be recognised that although it can be done domestically, it won't be an easy thing to do in other countries.'
The legal requirements for wine production in Australia are outlined in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code - Standard 4.5.1
Saltman will hold a workshop on 'Using natural food additives to improve the quality and consumer acceptability of wine' on Sunday 14 July from 8.30am-12.30pm at the Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference, at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Participants will get to taste wines, including the prototype wines used in Saltman's research. Saltman will talk about the results of her research over the past two years as well as future innovation in wine production.

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