Tag Archives: wine

Just two glasses of wine could exceed a whole’s day sugar intake

Yes, wine is good, but here’s the thing: there’s sugar in all wines, from whites to red to cooking wine and everything in between. But how much sugar are we talking about? Kind of a lot, according to a new study. Researchers reviewed 30 bottles of different types of wine in the UK and found that two glasses might exceed the recommended daily sugar limit for adults.

Image credit: Flickr / David.

The Alcohol Health Alliance, a group of over 60 non-profit organizations from the UK, commissioned a laboratory to analyze 30 bottles of red, white, fruit, rosé, and sparkling wine from the top 10 leading wine brands in the UK. The results showed a variation of sugar and calories between products – information missing from most alcohol labels.

“Alcohol’s current exemption from food and drink labeling rules [in the UK] is absurd. Shoppers who buy milk or orange juice have sugar content and nutritional information right at their fingertips. But this information is not required when it comes to alcohol,” Professor Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said in a statement

Wine and sugar

As you likely know, wine is made from grapes, which naturally contain sugar. To produce wine, the grapes have to be fermented – a process through which yeast is added and the sugars are transformed into alcohol. Any sugars that aren’t converted in the process are called residual sugars. So basically, wine does contain sugar, but it’s technically less than if you ate the grapes.

But the story is a bit more complicated. Every wine type is kind of unique in terms of sugar content. Aged wine, for example, has less sugar since it’s fermented for a longer time. Also, winemakers can add more sugar after fermentation depending on the desired sweetness. In the US, for example, the market for sweets is higher, so more sugar is added to the wine.

The problem is most of the bottles lack nutritional information on labels. In the UK, like in many countries, this isn’t currently required by law, so campaigners are calling for a change to better inform wine drinkers about the number of calories and sugars they are consuming. It’s also something consumers want, according to recent surveys.

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK recommends adults consume a maximum of 30 grams of sugars per day. This is sugar in all its forms — and a lot of foods have more sugar than you think. The analysis by the Alcohol Health Alliance UK shows it’s possible to reach that level by drinking two medium-sized glasses of some wines. Lower-strength wines have the most sugar, according to the research.

Alcohol accounts for about 10% of the daily calorie intake of adults who drink in the UK, with over three million adults consuming an extra day’s worth of calories each week. That’s two months of food each year, and it’s basically just empty calories. It goes much further than just wine, with up to 59 grams of sugar found on every ready-to-drink cocktail on the market, a study showed.

“The alcohol industry has dragged their feet for long enough – unless labeling requirements are set out in law, we will continue to be kept in the dark about what is in our drinks. People want and need reliable information directly on bottles and cans, where it can usefully inform their decisions,” Alison Douglas from Alcohol Focus Scotland said in a statement.

The full report on sugar and wine can be accessed here.

The Pythagorean cup – the vessel that spills your booze if you’re too greedy

Pythagoras, an important philosopher, mathematician, and music theorist, was born on the island of Samos, probably in 585 BC. A lesser-known fact is that he enjoyed a good prank. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Known as one of the most enlightened minds of antiquity, Pythagoras of Samos left an invaluable legacy to the world. As a renowned mathematician, philosopher, and mystic, Pythagoras’ ideas were tremendously influential on the ancient world. 

Whilst the 6th century BC Greek philosopher is foremost known for his mathematical innovations, such as his study of the property of numbers and his well-known geometric theorem that relates the sides of a right triangle in a simple way, not many people know he was also an accomplished inventor.

One of his many inventions is the Pythagorean cup, also known as the greedy cup – a clever and entertaining vessel designed to hold an optimal amount of wine, forcing people to imbibe only in moderation — a virtue of great regard among ancient Greeks.

If the user was too greedy and poured wine over the designed threshold, the cup would spill its entire content. Imagine the dismay and stupefaction a glutton felt when his precious brew perished on the floor.

Indeed, Pythagoras was always a professor at heart, and his contraption may have taught a couple of fellows about the virtue of moderation. But the ‘greedy cup’ also gives a lesson in ingenuity.

On the outside, the 2,500-year-old design looks like any other cup. However, when you make a cross-section, it becomes clear this is no ordinary vessel. At the center of the cup lies a mechanism consisting of a hollow pipe-like chamber that follows an opening, starting from the bottom of the liquid-holding part of the cup, up to the top of the central column that makes up the cup’s core, and back down 180 degrees out the bottom.

pythagorean_cup_cross_section

As the pipe curls over the top of the U-shaped central column, its floor marks an imaginary line. If you fill the cup over this horizontal line, the liquid will begin to siphon out the bottom and onto your lap or feet — the entire content of the cup, even the liquid below the line.

A Pythagoras cup you can find in Greece or online.

cross_section_pythagorean_cup

Cross-section of a Pythagorean cup.

The siphon is created due to the interplay between gravity and hydrostatic pressure. Water tends to flow from the area of high pressure to the area of low pressure. When the liquid level rises such that it fills the U-shaped chamber, the liquid will start to fall due to gravity. As gravity pulls the water column down the pipe of the Pythagorean cup, the lower pressure thus created on the other end causes the liquid to be overpowered, subsequently allowing itself to be “dragged” along, stopping only when the water level either falls below the intake or the outlet. Some modern toilets operate on the same principle: when the water level in the bowl rises high enough, a siphon is created, flushing the toilet.

According to one account, which may be more myth than history, Pythagoras got the idea for his fabled cup while supervising workers or students at a water supply project in Samos island. There, he was troubled by the debauchery of the workers, so he came up with this ancient prank to ensure they only drank in moderation.

Today, Pythagorean cups can be bought all over Greece at souvenir shops and can even be ordered on eBay. If you’re up for pranks, this is a great gift. Be wary of wine though since it stains.

Scientists reveal the secret that makes red wine pair so well with cheese, meats, and other fatty foods

Credit: Pixabay.

Cheese and wine by themselves taste good, but pairing them can actually enhance their flavor to make the meal even more delicious. Why is that? Well, who was better qualified to answer this question than a team of French researchers, who recently published a paper showing that tannins in wine have an affinity for lipids (fats) in certain foods, such as cheese, meats, and vegetable oils.

Tannins are polyphenolic compounds responsible for the bitterness and astringency of red wines, although some white wines have tannin too from aging in wooden barrels for fermenting skins of grapes.

Along with other qualities, such as acidity, alcohol, and fruit, tannin content is a key characteristic that helps balance a wine. It can also determine how well a wine pairs with certain foods.

In their most recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers at the University of Bordeaux investigated how tannins influence the size and stability of lipid droplets in an emulsion.

During an experiment, the French researchers made an oil-in-water emulsion by mixing olive oil, water, and a phospholipid emulsifier into which they added a grape tannin called catechin. After the tannin was added to the emulsifier that surrounded the oil droplets, the droplets grew in size.

In another experiment, the researchers studied how human volunteers experienced the taste of tannins. When the participants ate a spoonful of rapeseed, grapeseed, or olive oil immediately before tasting a tannin solution, the reported astringency was reduced. The greatest effect was seen when the tannins were combined with olive oil, causing the tannins to be perceived as fruity rather than astringent.

The two evaluations — one assessing sensory perception, the other analyzing the chemical makeup of the emulsions — led the authors to conclude that the tannins interacted with droplets of oil in the mouth. As a result, the oils are less able to bind to proteins in saliva, which is what is responsible for astringent taste.

“Wine is very often consumed with a meal. However, although it is well known to tasters that the taste of wine changes in the presence of food, the influence of dietary lipids on wine astringency and bitterness caused by grape tannins is not well established from a molecular point of view,” the authors wrote in their study.

“Our results highlight that dietary lipids are crucial molecular agents impacting our sensory perception during wine consumption.”

You’re being duped with counterfeit wine — but this machine-learning approach can save you

Wine fraud — it’s a real thing. But new research from the University of Adelaide promises to offer a fast and reliable method of verifying the authenticity of any bottle out there.

Image credits Dirk Wohlrabe.

How would we ever have gone through this year if it wasn’t for trusty old wine (or any similarly inebriating drink)? But there’s a lot of counterfeit wine on the market, with the sale of such products estimated to be worth billions of dollars each year globally. The team wanted to produce a quick, cheap, and reliable method of testing the authenticity of wines, both to protect the health and interests of clients and to give wine-makers a means of building regional branding.

They successfully applied a novel technique of molecular fingerprinting using fluorescence spectroscopy to identify the geographical origins of three wine regions in Australia and the Bordeaux region of France with 100% accuracy.

Verum vino

“Wine fraud is a significant problem for the global wine industry, given a yearly economic impact within Australia alone estimated at several hundred million dollars, and globally thought to be in the billions of dollars,” says Ruchira Ranaweera, a Ph.D. student in the University’s Waite Research Institute, who conducted the research.

“Wine authentication can help to avoid any uncertainty around wine labeling according to the origin, variety, or vintage. The application of a relatively simple technique like this could be adapted for use in the supply chain as a robust method for authentication or detection of adulterated wines.”

The team compared their method to a pre-existing authentication approach, the ‘inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry’ (ICP-MS). ICP-MS works by measuring the ratios of different chemical components in a wine sample but is more complicated, slow, and expensive to apply than the new method.

The authors explain that the fluorescence spectroscopy technique generates a ‘fingerprint’ for each sample based on the presence of light-emitting (fluorophoric) compounds therein. This data is then fed into a data-analyzing algorithm that gauges a wine’s origin based on its chemical characteristics. Every wine they tasted this way was correctly identified by the program, but not so with the elements identified by ICP-MS, they explain.

“Other than coming up with a robust method for authenticity testing, we are hoping to use the chemical information obtained from fluorescence data to identify the molecules that are differentiating the wines from the different regions,” says Associate Professor Jeffery from the Waite Research Institute and the ARC Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production, who led the project.

“This may help with regional branding, by understanding how their wines’ characteristics are influenced by the region and how they differ from other regions.”

Ultimately, he explains, such techniques should allow us to identify the chemical markers that are characteristic to individual wine regions. Perhaps in time, they will also help us identify exactly which components give products from each winemaking region their unique personality.

The paper “Authentication of the geographical origin of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon wines using spectrofluorometric and multi-element analyses with multivariate statistical modelling” has been published in the journal Food Chemistry.

It’s not just hotter days: global warming is affecting wine production

Drinking your way through the climate emergency worsens might not be a viable option anymore, as growing temperatures are putting the world’s supply of wine under threat, according to a new study.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

The regions of the world that are suitable for producing wine grapes could shrink up to 56% under a global warming scenario of 2ºC, the research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said. Meanwhile, in a 4ºC warmer world, 85% of those lands won’t be suitable for wine production any longer.

Nevertheless, there are adaptation strategies available that could reduce climate effects. Reshuffling where certain grape varieties are grown could reduce by half the losses with a 2ºC warming and by a third in a 4ºC warming.

Scientists have long argued in favor of crop diversity to make agriculture more resilient to climate change, with wine grapes being a good way to test their claims. They are diverse, with more than 1.110 varieties currently planted, and well-documented, as harvest data goes back centuries.

“In some ways, wine is like the canary in the coal mine for climate change impacts on agriculture, because these grapes are so climate-sensitive,” said co-author Benjamin Cook from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, working with colleagues from Spain and Canada.

The researchers worked on 11 varieties of wine grape, chosen based on their diversity in development timing. They selected pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, ugni blanc, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, chasselas, riesling, chardonnay, grenache, merlot, monastrell, and pinot noir.

To work with the varieties, the team used a vintner and archives to build a model for when each would flower and mature in the different regions around the world under three warming scenarios: 0, 2, and 4 degrees Celsius. Then they used climate projections to see where the varieties would be viable in the future.

The researchers found that the shifting temperatures and the seasonal changes would alter conditions while the varieties were developing, having an impact on the quality of the wine. But, if the varieties are shifted, the losses could be reduced significantly. In a world with global warming of 2ºC, the 56% of the areas that would no longer be suitable for growing wine could be reduced to 24% if wine growers shifted to more suitable varieties. For example, in France, the mourvedre and the grenache could replace the current varieties such as the pinot noir as they deal better with the heat.

The study also showed that wine regions with cooler weather such as in Germany, New Zealand, and the US Pacific Northwest would largely remain intact under the 2ºC scenario. These areas could become suitable for warmer varieties such as merlot while the varieties that prefer cooler weather could be moved northward to regions that currently aren’t suitable for wine production.

Meanwhile, the wine-growing regions that are already facing hot weather such as Italy, Spain, and Australia will be the most affected, as they are limited to planting the warmest varieties.

Changing the wine grape varieties could help wine production but would have significant cultural, financial, and legal consequences, the study warned. “Growers still must learn to grow these new varieties. That’s a big hurdle in some regions that have grown the same varieties for hundreds and hundreds of years,” said Elizabeth Wolkovich at the University of British Columbia.

Bordeaux wine launched to the International Space Station… for science

Almost 4 tons of scientific experiments and precious cargo headed for the International Space Station were launched aboard a Northrop Grumman rocket recently from a NASA launchpad in Virginia. Among them, astronauts unloaded a zero-gravity baking oven but also 12 bottles of Bordeaux wine. Unfortunately, the astronauts won’t be enjoying the fine French wine for their Christmas dinner. Instead, the bottles are part of a science experiment meant to assess how radiation and microgravity affect aging.

Credit: Pixabay.

The experiment is part of a broader project involving several universities and a startup called Space Cargo Unlimited. The wine will be stored in a controlled environment, known as the Complex Microbiological System (CommuBioS), aboard the space station.

The 12 bottles will be stored at exactly 18 degrees Celsius for one year before being returned to earth where their quality will be compared to a control sample that was kept at the same temperature (widely considered the optimal temperature for aging wine).

Wine is a chemically complex liquid, which contains polyphenols, crystals, and tannins. And since microgravity is known to affect sedimentation and bubble dispersion, scientists expect that the wine stored on the ISS will experience an increase in reaction surface. This might lead to the formation of secondary metabolites that will influence the colloids and polyphenols found in wine. Ultimately, these physical and chemical changes should dramatically alter the taste of the wine.

 CommuBioS Payload Enclosure. Complex Micro (μ)-Biological System (CommuBioS) studies the aging of complex multi-component liquids during long-term storage in space. Credit: NASA.

The insights gained from this study might have important applications in food science. It could, for instance, improve the long-term storage of food and drink (both on earth and in space) or offer insights into how agriculture might adapt to climate change. For example, previous studies suggest that resveratrol, a component of wine, may limit the effects of space radiation.

It’s not the first time that wine has been sent to space. Château Lynch-Bages saw its 1975 vintage launched into space aboard NASA’s Discovery shuttle in 1985, returning to earth in 2015.

Ancient Celts had good taste in their drink, new study shows

A new archaeological analysis maps what the Celts were drinking, finding evidence of wine, as well as beer, milk, and olive oil.

Image credits: Luciana Braz.

In the first century BC, the political situation in Europe was pretty complex. Much of Greek learning was assimilated by the nascent Roman state, and towards the end of the century, the Romans grew to be the most powerful force on the continent, threatened only by Carthage, which was also defeated by the Romans. While they weren’t threatening Roman hegemony, the Celts were also a force to be reckoned with. Their culture is far less understood than that of the Romans, however.

Researchers in the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich and the University of Tübingen wanted to better understand the dietary habits of the Celts of the 1st century BC — particularly what they liked to drink. They analyzed 99 drinking vessels, storage and transport jars recovered during excavations at Mont Lassois in Burgundy — a fortified princely settlement.

Even before the results came in, it was clear that the Celts were involved in active trade with several peoples, especially the Greeks. Like much of Europe, they were enamored with some aspects of the Greek lifestyle and attempted to emulate it.

“This was a period of rapid change, during which vessels made in Greece and Italy reached the region north of the Alps in large numbers for the first time. It has generally been assumed that this indicates that the Celts began to imitate the Mediterranean lifestyle, and that only the elite were in a position to drink Mediterranean wine during their banquets,” says LMU archaeologist Philipp Stockhammer, who led the project.

This type of shard was analyzed in the study. Image credits: Victor S. Brigola.

Traces of liquids were absorbed by the ancient pots, where they were stored throughout the centuries. Researchers were particularly looking for traces of wine: a drink which wouldn’t have been traditional for the Celts, but was already a staple around the Mediterranean. Finding evidence of wine consumption would confirm that the Celts were, in fact, adopting the lifestyle from the Greeks.

This turned out to be the case. Cynthianne Spiteri adds:

“We are delighted to have definitively solved the old problem of whether or not the early Celts north of the Alps adopted Mediterranean drinking customs. – They did indeed, but they did so in a creative fashion!”

What Spiteri is referring to is the fact that Celts didn’t take things as they are from Greece. For instance, in addition to wine, they also drank local beer from Greek drinking bowls. Significantly, wine consumption wasn’t limited to the posh population of the Celts — the middle class also enjoyed a glass from time to time.

“In other words, the Celts did not simply adopt foreign traditions in their original form. Instead, they used the imported vessels and products in their own ways and for their own purposes. Moreover, the consumption of imported wine was apparently not confined to the upper echelons of society. Craftsmen too had access to wine, and the evidence suggests that they possibly used it for cooking, while the elites quaffed it in the course of their drinking parties. The study shows that intercultural contact is a dynamic process and demonstrates how easy it is for unfamiliar vessels to serve new functions and acquire new meanings.”

Researchers also found other types of drinks, confirming that most if not all layers of the Celt society were consuming a remarkable array of drinks — alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

“We identified characteristic components of olive oil and milk, imported wine and local alcoholic beverages, as well as traces of millet and beeswax,” says Maxime Rageot, who performed the chemical analyses in Tübingen.

Journal Reference: Rageot et al. New insights into Early Celtic consumption practices: Organic residue analyses of local and imported pottery from Vix-Mont Lassois. PLOS ONE, 2019; 14 (6): e0218001 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218001

 

A grape variety used to produce wine today can be traced back 900 years to an ancestral plant

It’s long been suspected that many of the grape varieties used for wine today, particularly the likes of Pinot Noir, are genetically identical to those used centuries ago or even in Antiquity. Now, researchers have tested that idea by comparing a modern grape genetic database with 28 archaeological seeds from French sites dating back to the Iron Age, Roman era, and medieval period.

The European grapevine (Vitis vinifera) was first domesticated 6,000 years ago, and it has become a staple ever since. People love eating grapes, but let’s face it — that’s not why grapevines are so cherished. Instead, there’s another reason why people love grapes so much: wine.

People have been making wine even before the vine was domesticated, with archaeological evidence of ancient winemaking found in Georgia (8,000 BC), China (7000 BC), Iran (5000 BC), and Greece (c. 4500 BC). France, which produces many of the world’s most popular wines, took a bit longer to start producing wine. Grapevines were introduced to France by the ancient Greeks in the 6th century BC, but it wasn’t until 500 years later, under Roman occupation, that wine production spread throughout southern France. Over the years, thousands of varieties of grapevine have been discovered or described in writing, but analyzing their genetic heritage and comparing them to modern cultivars has proven quite challenging.

Now, for the first time, researchers were able to analyze ancient grapes and compared them with modern varieties. Lead author Dr. Nathan Wales, from the University of York, analyzed grape seeds found in sites dating from the Iron Age (approx 500 BC) to Roman and medieval times. Wales explains:

“From our sample of grape seeds we found 18 distinct genetic signatures, including one set of genetically identical seeds from two Roman sites separated by more than 600km, and dating back 2,000 years ago.

“These genetic links, which included a ‘sister’ relationship with varieties grown in the Alpine regions today, demonstrate winemakers’ proficiencies across history in managing their vineyards with modern techniques, such as asexual reproduction through taking plant cuttings.”

Because grapevine is generally grown through cloning, it allows scientist to trace back their lineage as far back as seeds are available. Among the results, one particular variety stands out: a grape seed excavated from a medieval site in Orléans in central France was found to be genetically identical to Savagnin Blanc (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc). This indicates that this particular grape, which is currently used to make expensive wines known by the name of Vin Jaune in France or Traminer in central Europe, was popular for over 900 years, surviving the Medieval and modern ages with remarkable success.

When it comes to Roman wines, no exact genetic match was found with a modern variety. However several ancient varieties were genetically very close to two important grape families used today: the Syrah-Mondeuse Blanche family, which is used to produce Syrah (also called Shiraz) wine, one of the most popular wines today, and the Pinot-Savagnin family, used to produce Pinot Noir — the “king of wines”.

In other words, Roman wine was very similar to the ones we drink today. Dr. Jazmín Ramos-Madrigal, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Copenhagen, said:

“Based on writings by the Roman author and naturalist, Pliny the Elder, and others, we know the Romans had advanced knowledge of winemaking and designated specific names to different grape varieties, but it has so far been impossible to link their Latin names to modern varieties. Now we have the opportunity to use genetics to know exactly what the Romans were growing in their vineyards.”

The analysis also suggests that the grapes were probably used for wine — not eating. It’s not easy to trace back a genetic legacy through the centuries, but thanks to the particularities of winegrowing and the existing grapevine databases, researchers were able to make this distinction.

“We suspect the majority of these archaeological seeds come from domesticated berries that were potentially used for winemaking based on their strong genetic links to wine grapevines,” says Ramos-Madrigal.

“Berries from varieties used for wine are small, thick-skinned, full of seeds, and packed with sugar and other compounds such as acids, phenols, and aromas – great for making wine but not quite as good for eating straight from the vine. These ancient seeds did not have a strong genetic link to modern table grapes.”

As for winemakers and consumers, this is more than just an interesting piece of trivia: it could draw more attention on some varieties which are only grown at small scales. “For the wine industry today, these results could shed new light on the value of some grape varieties; even if we don’t see them in popular use in wines today, they were once highly valued by past wine lovers and so are perhaps worth a closer look,” concludes Wales.

The study “Palaeogenomic insights into the origins of French grapevine diversity” was published in Nature Plants

Whatever your drinking strategy is, you’ll get equally hungover

“Beer before wine, you’ll be fine; wine before beer, you’ll feel queer” — similar variations of this advice are passed down in surprisingly many cultures. There’s the French (Bière sur vin est venin, vinsur bière est belle manière), the German (Wein auf Bier, das rat ich Dir — Bier auf Wein, das lass sein), and even the Romanian (Berea dupa vin e un chin) version. But does the folk saying actually have any truth to it? A new study says ‘no‘ — it doesn’t really matter in what order you have your drinks, you’ll still get equally drunk and equally hungover.

Most of us are familiar with the scourge of hangovers — perhaps too familiar. But despite all this, hangovers remain somewhat of a mystery: we don’t know what they are or even how to manage them.

“Alcohol-induced hangover constitutes a significant, yet understudied, global hazard and a large socio-economic burden,” researchers write in a new study.

Kai Hensel, M.D, has been thinking about hangovers for a long time. Not because he has a history of them, but because he wanted to see how accurate folk sayings about hangovers really are. In particular, he was curious about the different variations of “grape or grain, but never the twain” (twain being an archaic term for “both”).

He sought advice from older professors, scoured the literature, but couldn’t find any information. So he came up with a plan. After carefully laying out a study design and seeking ethical approval, he got 90 volunteers drunk — for science.

The study was simple but ingenious in its approach. The participants were split into two groups. The first group consumed two and a half pints of lager beer (graciously donated by Carlsberg), and then had four large glasses of white wine. The second group had the same but in the opposite order, while the third group was a control group, only drinking either wine or beer. A week after the first drinking session, participants were asked to come back and switch the drinking order, and they were also asked to grade how hungover they were. Hangover intensity was scored on an 8-item compound score (including thirst, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea, stomach ache, tachycardia, and loss of appetite)

The results were very telling: there was basically no difference between how hungover the different groups were. So regardless of wine before beer or beer before wine, people were equally drunk and equally hungover. Just because it rhymes doesn’t mean it’s true — who knew?

No tactical drinking — just red flags

Instead, the only predictor of how hungover people were the next day was how drunk they got. For instance, women had more and stronger hangovers, something which is in line with previous research.

“After doing all the blood tests, urine tests, and the marginal regression analysis, the only thing that was actually a predictor of a hangover the next day was the participants feeling drunk,” Hensel pauses, “and then vomiting.”

Another saying is that you shouldn’t mix drinks — but this also turned out to not be the case. Vomiting occurred more often in the control group (6 for wine only and 5 for beer only than in the study groups (4 in total for both groups). More women than men vomited both on study day 1 (5 to 4) and on study day 2 (8 to 4).

There was substantial difference between participants. Different people have different hangover predisposition, depending on body mass, individual tolerance, and habituation to alcohol intake. Colorings, flavorings, and sugar can also make hangovers more severe. But tactical drinking is not a thing, researchers warn.

“Although this should rob tactical drinkers of the belief that they can reduce the aftereffects of a heavy night out by careful ordering of beverages, our findings suggest that “perceived drunkenness” and “vomiting” are useful predictors of misery in the morning after the night before. Furthermore, this is in line with the recent observation that no level of alcohol consumption improves health,” the study concudes.

Researchers say that the best thing to do in order to avoid hangovers is to look for red flags. Drinking too much alcohol is associated with severe dehydration (so it’s always good to have some water when drinking a lot of alcohol), but essentially, if you want to not feel bad the next day, you should realize when you’re drunk and stop drinking. Of course, the irony is (as drunken people all around the world can attest) that realizing you’re drunk is pretty much the hardest thing to do when you’re drunk.

Hensen also discussed another strategy employed by some drinkers: the pre-emptive puking. There is some merit to it, he says, but if you’ve reached that point, you’re in trouble anyway.

“If you arrive at a point where you need to be sick you’ve probably passed the point of no return,” he added.

The study “Grape or grain but never the twain? A randomized controlled multiarm matched-triplet crossover trial of beer and wine” has been published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Steam Power Might Help in Space Exploration

WINE prototype. Credit: HONEYBEEROBOTICS LTD.

WINE prototype. Credit: HONEYBEEROBOTICS LTD.

A vast array of gas fuels have been used in the launching and transportation of spacecraft with liquid hydrogen and oxygen among them. Other spacecraft rely heavily on solar power to sustain their functionality once they have entered outer space. But now steam-powered vessels are being developed, and they are working efficiently as well.

People have been experimenting with this sort of technology since 1698, some decades before the American Revolution. Steam power has allowed humanity to run various modes of transportation such as steam locomotives and steamboats which were perfected and propagated in the early 1800s. In the century prior to the car and the plane, steam power revolutionized the way people traveled.

Now, in the 21st century, it is revolutionizing the way in which man, via probing instruments, explores the cosmos. The private company Honeybee Robotics, responsible for robotics being employed in fields including medical and militaristic, has developed WINE (World Is Not Enough). The project has received funding from NASA under its Small Business Technology Transfer program.

The spacecraft is intended to be capable of drilling into an asteroid’s surface, collecting water, and using it to generate steam to propel it toward its next destination. Late in 2018, WINE’s abilities were put to the test in a vacuum tank filled with simulated asteroid soil. The prototype mined water from the soil and used it to generate steam to propel it. Its drilling capabilities have also been proven in an artificial environment. To heat the water, WINE would use solar panels or a small radioisotopic decay unit.

“We could potentially use this technology to hop on the moon, Ceres, Europa, Titan, Pluto, the poles of Mercury, asteroids — anywhere there is water and sufficiently low gravity,” The University of Central Florida’s planetary researcher Phil Metzger stated.

Without having to carry a large amount of fuel and assumably having unlimited resources for acquiring its energy, WINE and its future successors might be able to continue their missions indefinitely. Similar technology might even be employed in transporting human space travelers.

wine

Every extra drink could shorten your lifespan by 30 minutes

There are some health benefits to be gained from drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, but science cautions that it will start negatively affecting your health past a certain threshold. A new study has quantified the lifespan-shortening effects of alcohol, finding that for every extra glass of wine or pint of beer over a certain limit, people lose 30 minutes of their life. The risks of drinking over the allowed weekly limit for a 40-year-old were comparable to smoking, according to the study’s authors.

wine

Credit: Pixabay.

Drinking sensibly has been shown in the past to reduce the chance of a non-fatal heart attack and can even be good for the brain. However, it’s very easy to cross the dangerous threshold over which cardiovascular diseases have a field day.

The new meta-analysis (a study of studies) included 600,000 drinkers from 83 studies performed in 19 countries. Half of the participants reported consuming more than 100g of alcohol a week and 8.4% drank more than 350g per week (the heavy drinkers). The study suggests that the risk of premature death rose quickly when more than 100g of alcohol was consumed per week — that’s five to six glasses of wine or pints of beer.

On average, a 40-year-old who consumed twice this amount reduced their life expectancy by six months. Beyond that, between 200g and 350g a week, they can expect to lose one to two years of life. Finally, those who drank more than 350g a week shortened their lifespans by four to five years. The really heaviest drinkes out there might lose as many years of life as a smoker (ten years lost), the researchers say.

Estimated future years of life lost by extent of reported baseline alcohol consumption compared with those who reported consuming >0–≤100 g per week. Credit: The Lancet.

Estimated future years of life lost by extent of reported baseline alcohol consumption compared with those who reported consuming >0–≤100 g per week. Credit: The Lancet.

“Above two units a day, the death rates steadily climb,” David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the new study, told The Guardian. 

“The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years’ lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life. This works out at about an hour per day. So it’s as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette.

In 2016, the UK changed its national guidelines for alcohol consumption, reducing the recommended daily limit for alcohol. The decision was hotly debated and criticized at the time, but the new study supports the maximum of 14 units a week for both men and women set out by England’s chief medical officer. In countries like Italy, Spain, or the United States, the recommended limit is now almost double that in the UK (equating to up to two lost years of life). In other words, a lot of people might be indulging thinking they’re on the safe side, when, in fact, they might not be — and this is something definitely worth considering next time you go out.

The findings appeared in The Lancet medical journal.

Low levels of alcohol are good for the brain

Casual drinkers, rejoice: a new study concludes that low levels of alcohol help the brain clear away toxins, including those associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

There’s a great deal of literature showing the negative effects of alcohol. It’s been associated with everything from cardiovascular diseases to a broad array of cancers, and from liver diseases to extra pounds. However, strictly in low quantities, alcohol might offer some small benefits. This new study seems to support the idea that in low quantities, alcohol is good for the brain.

“Prolonged intake of excessive amounts of ethanol is known to have adverse effects on the central nervous system,” said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study.  “However, in this study we have shown for the first time that low doses of alcohol are potentially beneficial to brain health, namely it improves the brain’s ability to remove waste.”

The study focused on the newly-discovered glymphatic system, the brain’s cleaning system, which was first described by Nedergaard and her colleagues back in 2012. The recently-discovered glymphatic system works as an analog to the lymphatic system present in other body organs, cleansing the brain of unwanted substances. According to Nedergaard, low doses of alcohol enable the glymphatic system to remove “waste” from the brain and reduce inflammation.

The study compared the glymphatic system of mice who consumed low quantities of alcohol to a control group and found that in the former group, much more cerebral spinal fluid was pumped into brain tissue, flushing the waste away.

The low dose animals’ performance in the cognitive and motor tests was identical to the controls.

““Studies have shown that low-to-moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lesser risk of dementia, while heavy drinking for many years confers an increased risk of cognitive decline. This study may help explain why this occurs. Specifically, low doses of alcohol appear to improve overall brain health.”

However, this is still a controversial issue. While previous studies have found links between low levels of alcohol intake and improved brain health, this could happen because of a bias in the study participants. Some researchers found that alcohol isn’t exactly good for the brain, but studies analyzing the effect suffer from a survivor bias. Basically, many alcohol drinkers don’t live long enough or aren’t healthy enough to be included in the study, and the ones that do make it are much more likely to have significantly better brain function overall.

Whichever the case may be, this study isn’t meant to play alcohol’s advocate. Again, there’s plenty of evidence that alcohol is bad for you in a number of ways, so if you do drink, please do so in moderation.

Journal Reference: Iben Lundgaard et al. Beneficial effects of low alcohol exposure, but adverse effects of high alcohol intake on glymphatic function. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-20424-y

Climate change might be threatening our wines

It’s a first world problem if I’ve ever heard one, but it’s yet another testament to the far-reaching effects of climate change.

Hot summer, cold wine

Warmer, sunnier summers are often a consequence of global warming — and in the short run, people might enjoy that. Barbecues, walks in the park, cold summer wines — if you wouldn’t know the kind of damage that global warming does, you might be pretty psyched about it. But even that fun is threatened by rising temperatures. As more and more data suggests, wine producers are already feeling the pressure.

This isn’t something at some distant point in the future, it’s happening now.

“The impact of climate change on wine production is quite real,” says Dr Elizabeth Wolkovich, an ecologist at Harvard University Center for the Environment, Massachusetts, US. “Producing good (or great) wine grapes requires an accurate matching of the wine grape variety to the local climate. But with climate change the challenges will only grow as temperatures continue to rise and precipitation regimes continue to shift.”

Take France, for instance. Temperatures have risen by about 1.5 Celsius during the last century. Similar trends can be reported across the other Mediterranean countries, and things are even worse for countries in the southern hemisphere (ie Brazil). This is starting to take a toll on global wine production. Overall, it fell by 3.2% in 2016, and Brazil itself reported a catastrophic 55% drop. A lot of businesses went under, and a lot of people were left without a job.

Uncorking solutions

There’s a number of ways through which warmer temperatures affect vineyards. The entire life cycle of the plants is shifted — they ripen faster and also wither quicker. Farmers have to adapt their work to new conditions, and many of them are family businesses that have been doing things the same way for generations. Higher temperatures also favor pests and pathogens, making it much harder for the farmers to get rid of them. Climate change also brings more unpredictable weather and extreme events. A severe downpour or a hailstorm can ruin an entire year’s harvest in mere hours, and this is starting to happen more and more.

Thankfully (at least for those of us who love their good wine), researchers are already working on mitigation and plant adaptation. Big vineyards already use an impressive amount of technology for this process. They do geophysical monitoring for soil parameter, they often employ remote sensing, and use sophisticated mathematical models to make better decisions (ie when to harvest). But now, researchers are taking things to the next level.

Since 2013, Dr. Anne-François Adam-Blondon, Director of Research in the Plant Biology and Breeding division of the National Institute for Agricultural Research, Paris, has been leading the InnoVine project, which aims to investigate wine production from the vineyard, plant, and genomic level. The European project has already undertaken more than 2,000 genetic tests for diseases, finding new ways through which these problems can be fought. So far, breeding varieties more resistant to disease and environmental stresses was the most effective strategy. But no matter what you do, there’s just nothing that can fully compensate for the effects of climate change.

Moving up in the world

Ferrari-carano vineyard in Dry Creek, California.

Basically, as temperatures become hotter, conditions will shift to higher altitudes. There will be winners and losers, though overall, people will lose more than they will gain. By the year 2050, we could see a 23% shrinkage in the land suitable for growing grapes. Moving production to higher altitudes will also be extremely expensive.

“Much of the impact of climate change on wine will be due to the need to shift vineyards to upper elevations in new locations, many of which may be in forest reserves or have strong implications for local water use,” says Dr Lee Hannah, senior scientist for climate change biology at the Moore Center for Science of Conservation International, Virginia, US.

“We need to work on the farm level and plant level, as InnoVine is doing, but the real future sustainability for the industry is in collaborative land use planning.”

But there’s no guarantee that the same conditions will ever be found again. Just because a similar temperature will be recreated, the soil might be different. Or weather patterns might be different. Or any number of factors. It’s quite possible that the specific conditions which gave birth to the quality wines we know today may change, ever so slightly, and we may never find them. In other words, enjoy today’s wine. Tomorrow’s glass might be a bit different.

The findings have not been collected and published in a peer-review paper, but they have been presented to producers and policy makers.

From Red to White: The main types of wine, with their delicious differences

Port wine

A glass of Port wine, a fortified one. Image credits: Jon Sullivan.

Wine has been, and still is, one of the most popular drinks in human history — for good reasons. From inspiring poets and lovers to guiding research on human health, wine is found in almost all cultures from all over the world and comes in a great number of varieties. Studies have also shown that moderate red wine consumption can be healthy for you, though let’s be honest, that’s not why we drink it.

Around the world, people classify wines in several different ways. In Europe, wines are often classified by region (sometimes by grape type). Elsewhere in the world, it’s all about the grape type, and that’s the most common classification. If you want to impress your friends, improve your etiquette, or just learn more about delicious wines, this is the classification you’ll want to know (list first, then we’ll go into more details):

Types of wine

  • Cabernet Sauvignon (red wine)
  • Riesling (white wine)
  • Pinot Noir (red wine)
  • Syrah (red wine)
  • Sauvignon Blanc (white wine)
  • Chardonnay (white wine)
  • Gewürztraminer (white wine)
  • Merlot (red wine)
  • Zinfandel (red wine)

Of course, many other grape varieties exist throughout the world, these are just the most famous and the most commonly used — the ones you’re most likely to find both in a supermarket and in a fancy restaurant. It’s important to note that these are not different biological species, they are so-called cultivars — different varieties.

What about rosé?

We’re dealing with rosé separately because it can be made from several types of grapes. What makes rosé wine special is the fact that it is made through the skin contact method — basically, the skins of red grapes are allowed to touch the wine for only a short period of time, thus only lending it a bit of color. Nearly any red wine grape can be used to make rosé wine, though as you’d imagine, some are better than others.

So, let’s look at the grape varieties.

Wine

Image credits: Roberta Sorge.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Without a doubt, one of the most famous and most widely recognized types of wine. It rose to prominence through the Bordeaux wines from France (remember how we said Europe likes to classify its wines by region), and it is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc for an even nobler taste. Aside from France, it’s widely grown in Italy, California, Washington, Australia, and nearly all South American States.

California Cabernet from Napa Valley including Chateau Montelena, Nickel & Nickel, and Paul Hobbes in stemless Reidel glasses. Image credits: Brian Solis.

The word “Sauvignon” is believed to be derived from the French sauvage, which means “wild” — and this is noticeable in its taste. Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red wine, which is just a fancy way of saying that it is very rich and satisfying in flavor. It is full of tannins which give it a long after taste and an acidic feel. In terms of food, red meat is the classic pairing, but keep in mind that red meat is not good for you, and it’s not good for the planet.

Interestingly, a team led by Dr. Carole Meredith from the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology conducted a DNA analysis on Cabernet Sauvignon and found that the grapes are likely the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, occurring as a chance crossing sometime during the 17th century. Sometimes, good things happen by accident.

Riesling

Riesling grapes.

Riesling grapes, yum! Image via Pixabay.

Riesling is a grape variety which originated in Germany, probably in the 15th century. Although it’s not as widely grown as some of the other varieties presented here, Riesling is considered a top quality wine — varietally pure and are seldom oaked.

These wines have a light aroma, with variable sweetness and an aftertaste reminiscent of fresh apples. Traditional German food often fits perfectly with a Riesling, as does Indian, Thai, Vietnamese or Moroccan food. Some cheeses and fondue are also an excellent fit.

Riesling is a polarizing wine, with some people loving it and some people finding it too sweet or too dry (a wine is called dry when all the sugar has fermented into alcohol; a sweet wine has residual sugar). In reality, the sweetness is a winemaking decision and is not related to the grapes themselves, and there’s a great variety of Rieslings available with varying sweetness and dryness; be sure to pick something according to your taste.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is one of the noblest wines, almost never blended with other varieties. This dry, light-bodied wine was first made in France (Burgundy being the chief Pinot Noir region), but it is now grown in many parts of the world. especially in cooler areas. Good Pinot Noirs can easily be found in Austria, California, Oregon, and New Zealand.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is one of the noblest wines. Image credits: Randy Peterson.

The name comes from the French words for pine (pinot) and black (noir). It’s a common misconception that the wine was named this way due to a pine-like flavor but in reality, this alludes to the tightly clustered, pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit. The aroma is actually very fruity, reminding of cherries, raspberries, and strawberries. As the grapes grow older, hints of “vegetal” and “barnyard” can add to the complexity of the wine. Cream sauces, soft cheeses, and Japanese food are excellent pairings for the wine.

Pinot Noir is also widely enjoyed by people who like to drink wine, but don’t really like the alcohol. Being a lighter wine, it is favored by more restrained drinkers, as it often has just about 12% alcohol by volume.

Syrah

An Italian Syrah from Sicily. Image credits: Davide Restivo.

Syrah, also called Shiraz, has been planted extensively in the past decades, making it widely available not only in France but also in South Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand. Still, the best Syrahs typically come from areas with granitic soils.

The wine is an intense dark red, and the aromas strongly remember of blackcurrant, with overtones of black pepper spice, highlighted by the warm temperature. Syrah has one of the warmest wine serving temperatures at 18 °C (65 °F). It’s also one of the wines favored for rosé wine and Port or Port-like fortified wines, due to its intense flavor and excellent longevity. It’s a medium-bodied wine, somewhere between the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Pinot Noir. Firm or hard cheeses are a great fit for Syrah, as are most smoky foods.

The wine should not be mistaken with Petite Sirah, which is a descendant of Syrah and Peloursin. Genetic analysis has revealed that these highly prized grapes are the offspring of two obscure varieties from southeastern France.

Syrah plantation

The first planting of Syrah in Washington state at Red Willow Vineyard in the Washington wine region of the Yakima Valley. Image credits: Agne.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc is a green-skinned grape variety originating from Bordeaux, France.

It’s one of the most versatile wines, being easy to pair with everything from salads or poultry to Mexican and Vietnamese food. It’s also one of the few wines that go well with desert, and one of the even fewer that go well with sushi. Dry and sweet, it’s an enjoyable taste in almost all circumstances, with aromas reminiscent of mint and herbal green, as well as (in some cases) bright exotic fruits. Sauvignon Blanc is sometimes noted as having a “bell pepper” aroma.

Image credits: Sergio Olivier.

The wine is usually consumed young, as it’s not a prime candidate for aging. Sauvignon Blanc is a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sauvignon Blanc vines in New Zealand. Image credits: Steve Gardner.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is another green-skinned grape variety originating in France, which has now become virtually ubiquitous throughout the world. Basically, everywhere wine is grown, you’re likely to find some Chardonnay because it can thrive in a variety of climates and soils. This is also exacerbated by the fact that Chardonnay is often used in the production sparkling wines, including Champagne.

Chardonnay is a dry, full-bodied wine, with rich, zesty citrus flavors (especially lemon and grapefruit), as well as vanilla, toast, coconut, and toffee aroma — when it is oaked. It works great with mushrooms, cream sauces, figs, and chicken.

Chardonnay grapes in Moldova. Romania and Moldova have over 100 different grape varieties between themselves. Image credits: Constantin Stratan.

For wine growers, Chardonnay is considered a “rite of passage” onto the market, because it’s easiest to grow and sell. The Chardonnay grape itself is very neutral, which also means that winemakers can work with it a lot and adapt its taste to their preference.

Gewürztraminer

You would be excused for thinking that Gewürztraminer wines originate in Germany — when in fact, they originate in Alsace (a region of France). Nowadays, aside from Germany and of course, France, you can find it on the US West Coast and notably — New York.

Try reading the wine name out loud. Image credits: BlueJules.

Gewürztraminer is a highly aromatic wine, reminiscent of rose petals or lychee. Because of its broad, strong aroma, it is often considered not to be as refreshing as other white wines. The German name Gewürztraminer literally means “Spice Traminer” or “Perfumed Traminer.”

The history of Gewürztraminer is complicated, even more so by its complex genome which held many secrets to researchers. The journey of the grape variety starts with the Traminer variety, a green-skinned grape that named after the village of Tramin, located in South Tyrol, the German-speaking province in northern Italy. Tramin is one of the oldest existing wines, over one millennium old. It’s not clear exactly when Gewürztraminer emerged in its current form, but the name was first used in 1870.

Merlot

Merlot is a light, easy to enjoy wine that’s perfect for new or light drinkers. It’s often used as a blend with the deeper and rougher Cabernet Sauvignon, but Merlot is a fantastic wine in its own right,

California Merlot from Provence. Image credits: Rick Audet.

There are two styles of Merlot: the “International style” is favored especially in the New World, and produces wines with higher alcohol content and intense shades of plum and blackberry fruit. The “Bordeaux style” grapes are harvested earlier, producing lighter, fresher fruits, with red fruit flavors. It’s a highly versatile wine, suitable for virtually every meal. Still, it should be noted that Merlot tends not to go well with strong cheeses or very spicy foods, which can make the Merlot seem bitter.

In recent years, Merlot grapes have acquired a mutation creating a pink-skinned variety known as Merlot gris. Merlot is also one of the more difficult varieties to grow due to its tendency to overripen — even a few days of delay can ruin a year’s work. The name Merlot is a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird, reminding of the wine’s deep, dark red color.

Zinfandel

Zinfandel is a variety of black-skinned wine grape widely grown in Californian vineyards. The grapes are very sweet, generally resulting in wines with over 15% alcohol content. The grapes typically produce a robust red wine, but in the US, a semi-sweet rosé wine called White Zinfandel is much more popular.

Bottle of a White Zinfandel wine from the Gallo Family Vineyards brand of California. Image credits: Dimi Talen.

The wine incorporates an exotic array of fruit aromas, from plum and blackberry to raspberry and even sweet tobacco. It’s a perfect wine for a barbecue or a good cheddar cheese. Zinfandel also fits perfectly with Italian or traditional American foods.

DNA analysis has revealed that Zinfandel emerged from is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag, as well as to the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in Apulia. Zinfandel was brought to California in the 1850s, during the gold rush, because it made very good raisins. Planting of Zinfandel boomed soon after that, and so did wine production.

Keep in mind that these are just a few of the most popular grape varieties throughout the world — there are countless others. Just because a wine isn’t made with grapes from this list doesn’t mean it’s less valuable or not as tasty. Enjoy a high-quality wine responsibly, with quality food and quality people (or why not — alone with a good book).

Eco-friendly wines really do taste better, scientists find

Let’s toast to eco-friendly grapes! A study has confirmed that eco-certified wines taste better, with previous research also showing that these wines are often cheaper than the alternatives.

Wine grapes during pigmentation in Baja California, Mexico. Photo by Tomas Castelazo.

The study looked at reviews and scores for more than 74,000 California wines from the magazines Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator. They found that on a standardized 100-point scale, eco-certified wines scored an average of 4.1 points higher. The effect was larger for red wines than white wines, but regardless of the type of wine, the effect was similar.

“The bottom line is that however we look at it, we find that organic and biodynamic farming has these small but significant positive effects on wine quality,” said lead author Magali Delmas, a UCLA environmental economist and professor in the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

The paper only studies California wines, but scientists expect similar results across all geo’s. Preliminary results on French wines already indicate the same things, says Delmas.

However, while they looked at wines made with grapes from organic and biodynamic farms, their study didn’t include organic wine. The most significant difference with organic wine comes not only from how the grapes are grown, but how the wine is made. Most notably, organic wine cannot contain sulfites — an important preservative used in most wines.

Delmas hopes the research will inspire winemakers to show off their eco-certifications more boldly. A meager 1 percent of all the wines in the study were eco-certified, and you’d expect them to advertise it clearly, but they often don’t. Consumers are reportedly unwilling to pay more for the eco-certification, so producers devalue it as well.

“Wine makers say it’s better for the quality of the wine,” Delmas said. “It’s a purer taste with more sense of the terror, because when you replace pesticides with labor, you have hands-on care for the vines and you improve the composition of the soil and you get back all the life — the microbes, insects, bees and worms that you need in agriculture.”

Delmas’ previous research found that winemakers don’t go for an eco-friendly product for the sake of eco-friendliness. It’s usually family farms, where the owners plan to pass the property on to their children which try their best to keep a clean environment. They don’t see it as a difference, it’s just the way they’ve always done things — hopefully, they will be able to leverage it. They’ll get to promote a superior product, and we’ll get to enjoy better wine.

The study was published in the Journal of Wine Economics.

Synthetic wine can mimic classic vintages, for a fraction of the time and price

Ava Winery, a start-up based in San Francisco, wants to let you enjoy the best of wines for a fraction of their current cost. To this end, they’ll bypass the costly growing and fermentation processes; in fact, they won’t use grapes at all. Their wines will be synthetically produced, by combining aromatic compounds with ethanol.

Image via avawinery

Mardonn Chua and Alec Lee got the idea in 2015, while visiting a Napa Valley winery. They were shown the bottle of a historic wine for US wineries — a Chateau Montelena, the first Californian Chardonnay rated above its French contenders, at the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976.

“I was transfixed by this bottle displayed on the wall,” says Chua. “I could never afford a bottle like this, I could never enjoy it. That got me thinking.”

Chua started experimenting with ethanol and fruity flavor compounds such as ethyl hexanoate in an attempt to recreate the experience of a quality wine. His first attempts were anything but, Chua himself describing them as “monstrous.” After six months of research however, they now believe they have produced a synthetic wine that can rival a traditionally-produced Italian white Moscato d’Asti sparkling wine. They’re now working on a Dom Pérignon mimic, and will begin shipping of the initial batch of 499 bottles for US$ 50 each later this summer.

An issue of taste

Wine is a very complex chemical solution. It can contain upwards of one thousand different chemical compounds, all working together to give wine its unique flavor. And, even though people have been enjoying this drink since antiquity, we still don’t really know which of these components contribute the most to wine’s taste and finish. The sheer number of different substances and substance interactions makes pinpointing flavor-driving molecules a crucial, but daunting task — like tasting a needle out of a haystack.

The team used gas chromatography, mass spectrometery and other methods to analyze the chemical make-up of several types of wine, such as Chardonnay, champagne and Pinot Noir. They wanted to identify these molecules — such as esters ethyl isobutyrate and ethyl hexanoate — and each of their concentrations. Then, they mixed them into their mimic wine and had a professional sommelier test the results as they experimented with different proportions of these molecules. The result?

“We can turn water into wine in 15 minutes,” claims Ava Winery.

Making wine is a lengthy process; good vines take years to grow, then there’s harvesting, fermenting and aging. A start-up that claims it can cut the whole process down to less than what it takes to order a pizza is naturally going to get the attention of the wine-making industry. Tony Milanowski, a winemaking expert at Plumpton College in the UK, isn’t too convinced about Ava’s mimic wine. Fatty acids and certain esters, released during fermentation in a wine-soluble form, may be difficult to dissolve in a synthetic drink, he says.

Ava Wineries don’t have what you’d call a classic winery layout.
Image provided by Ava.

Alain Deloire, director of the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre at Charles Sturt University, Australia, argues that the natural origin of wine has a huge role to play on the quality of the resulting drink, and that customers look for this natural element when they buy wine.

“It’s nonsense, to be honest with you,” Deloire, who has worked for Champagne specialists Moët & Chandon, adds.

Chua and Lee don’t think this will reduce the quality of their product, however.

“The big secret here is that most compounds in wine have no perceptible impact on the flavor or the aroma,” says Lee.

And, cutting to the chase, Lee concludes:

“It’s absolutely going to be substantially cheaper.”

Ava wines are unlikely to be labeled as such, as there are strict rules governing which products can use the term “wine.” The EU only allows it for fermented juice of grapes, whereas in the US other fruits can be used. Although this could damage the allure of synthetic wine, French winemaker Julien Miquel thinks there might be some interest in recreations of classic vintages. c

“There would be some curiosity on how close they could get,” he says.

 

 

Climate change is impacting wine grape harvest dates in Switzerland and France, NASA finds

A new collaboration study between NASA and Harvard University found that climate change is breaking an important link between droughts and the grape harvests in France and Switzerland.

Image credits Wikimedia user Verita

By analyzing records of wine-grape harvests between 1600 and 2007, researchers found that during the latter half of the 20th century these began shifting dramatically; between 1600 to 1980, earlier harvests were recorded only in years with warmer, drier springs and summers. But, from 1981 onward, farmers harvested the grapes earlier even in years without drought. This all comes down to shifting climate patterns.

The finding is important because high quality wines typically come from earlier harvests in relatively colder grape-growing regions, such as France and Switzerland.

“Wine grapes are one of the world’s most valuable horticultural crops and there is increasing evidence that climate change has caused earlier harvest days in this region in recent decades,” said Ben Cook, lead author and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York.

“Our research suggests that the climate drivers of these early harvests have changed.”

Wine ratings show that the best grapes are typically harvested in years with above-average rainfall early in the growing season, followed by late-season droughts.

“This gives vines plenty of heat and moisture to grow early in the season, while drier conditions later in the season shift them away from vegetative growth and toward greater fruit production” said the study’s co-author, ecologist Elizabeth Wolkovich of Arnold Arboretum and the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

“So far, a good year is a hot year,” she added.

However, she pointed out that the earliest French harvest ever recorded–2003, when a deadly heat wave hit Europe and grapes were picked a full month ahead of the once-usual time — did not produce particularly exceptional wines.

“That may be a good indicator of where we’re headed. If we keep pushing the heat up, vineyards can’t maintain that forever.”

The study looked at variability and trends in harvest dates over the last 400 years in Western Europe. It also took into account climate data recorded with instruments during the 20th century and (before these became available) reconstructions from tree rings and historical documents of temperature, precipitation and soil moisture all the way back to 1600.

The results were compared to wine quality from the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions in France based on the ratings of vintages over the past 100 years. Detailed quality information was available for those two regions in addition to the broader harvest data available throughout France and Switzerland.

The study’s results suggests that the role drought and moisture play in the time of harvest and the quality of the wine is undergoing a fundamental change; throughout history, warm temperatures have steadily led to earlier harvests and high-quality wines. Recent, large-scale climate shifts in the last few decades however have caused this effect to largely disappear.

“Wine quality also depends on a number of factors beyond climate, including grape varieties, soils, vineyard management and winemaker practices,” Cook said.

“However, our research suggests the large-scale climate drivers these local factors operate under has shifted. And that information may prove critical to wine producers as climate change intensifies during the coming decades in France, Switzerland and other wine-growing regions.”

In the long run, these shifts could be the bane of regions with deep traditions in wine-making, as the vines will struggle to adapt to their new climates.

The full paper, titled “Climate change decouples drought from early wine grape harvests in France” has been published online in the journal Nature Climate Change and can be read here.

Light-moderate drinking is good for your heart

Beer, liquor and wine lovers – rejoice! According to researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) people who drink alcoholic drinks regularly, but in small quantities  are less prone to heart failure and heart attacks than those who rarely or never drink. In other words, 3-5 drinks a week can be good for your heart.

A few beers a week can be good for your heart. Image via Pixabay.

Imre Janszky, a professor of social medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) confirmed what we all hoped was real: when consumed with moderation, alcohol helps the heart (he means physically, not metaphorically). Also, it doesn’t matter what you drink, it’s more about how much you drink.

“It’s primarily the alcohol that leads to more good cholesterol, among other things. But alcohol can also cause higher blood pressure. So it’s best to drink moderate amounts relatively often,” he says.

He conducted two studies, the first of which came out in September, and the second in January. The studies showed that those who drank three to five drinks per week were 33 per cent less prone to heart failure than those who abstained or drank infrequently. In the case of heart attacks, the risk appears to be reduced by 28 percent with each additional one-drink increment. To some, this may come as a surprise – but to researchers, it was no surprise at all.

In fact, there seems to be a consensus that 3-5 small drinks a week are good for you, and not just against strokes.

“The relationship between alcohol and heart health has been studied in many countries, including the USA and southern European nations. The conclusions have been the same, but the drinking patterns in these countries are very different than in Norway. In countries like France and Italy, very few people don’t drink,” says Janszky. “It raises the question as to whether earlier findings can be fully trusted, if other factors related to non-drinkers might have influenced research results. It may be that these are people who previously had alcohol problems, and who have stopped drinking completely,” he says.

However, drinking alcohol isn’t necessary for a good heart and people shouldn’t pick up drinking just to be healthy – that’s a pathway to disaster.

“I’m not encouraging people to drink alcohol all the time. We’ve only been studying the heart, and it’s important to emphasize that a little alcohol every day can be healthy for the heart. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to drink alcohol every day to have a healthy heart,” says Janszky.

 

Why taking a bath in wine is idiotic and wasteful

I shouldn’t have to write this – taking a bath in wine should intuitively seem like a very bad idea; at the very least, it’s wasteful, and doesn’t really help you. So why would you do it? Well, apparently… because it’s “cool”.

Drinking a glass of wine from time to time is quite healthy – it reduces the risk of depression, might reduce the risk of colon cancer and helps fight against aging. Furthermore, some studies have indicated that antioxidants in the red wine might eliminate reactive molecules (free radicals) that can damage your body’s protein and DNA.

But – and this is a big but – it needs to be inside you, not around you. So why bathe in it, when you can drink it? Well, if social media is any indication, bathing in wine has become quite popular lately, especially following New York Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire recent shares. He (and other people with a huge following) indulge in winy baths, and this prompted quite a stir. But is there any value behind these baths? Let’s have a look at what the science says.

Biologically speaking, the action of antioxidants is much more complicated than “they hunt free radicals”; in fact, we don’t exactly know what antioxidants do. They do play a role in our health, but we don’t know just how many we need and how they work. Diving in a bathtub filled with wine might not be your best option when it comes to getting antioxidants.

Also, many of them don’t really penetrate our skin that well; even if they were healthy, a creme or lotion would be better than soaking in win. Drinking would even be better. Here’s a video that discusses all this – and remember people: moderately consumption of red wine may be good for you. Bathing in it is useless and wasteful.

Tracing the French wine – to Italy

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The French didn’t invent wine, no more than Colombians invented coffee or the Italians discovered tomatoes. But… who did? What is the actual homeland of this wonderful drink? After analyzing some limestone residue, archaeologists working at University of Pennsylvania claims to have found the earliest evidence of European winemaking.

The 2,400-year-old stone is apparently a a pressing platform with a spout fashioned on one end. It contains remnants of tartaric acid, a chemical found in grapes – this, plus the way it was carved are pretty convincing evidence.

The Penn scientist and colleagues also analyzed even older pottery vessels from the same site in coastal southern France, finding the telltale tartaric acid there as well. These vessels, called amphorae, were used by Etruscans – the people who inhabited most of Italy before the Romans; they were dated at about 500 BC. So the French, apparently, imported their first wines from the Etruscans, and didn’t do it themselves – mon dieu!

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But this takes nothing from France’s rich viniculture history

“France is still the center of the world’s wine culture,” said McGovern, director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

However, the history of European wine pales in comparison to those in the Middle East. The first documented wine in what is today’s Iran goes all the way back to 5,400 B.C. – though archaeologists are examining even older samples.

Via Penn University