The SOMM Journal

February / March 2017

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Page 27 of 116

{ }  27 can identify it. One source of vanillin in wine originates from the lignins in oak, which also give us eugenol (clove), guaiacol and methyl guaiacol (bacon, spices, smoke) and syringol (roasted coffee). In the Wine & Spirit Education Trust courses I teach, on average, more than half of the students in a class can perceive vanilla in a blind sensory training exercise, attesting to its popularity as a flavor ingredient. Coincidentally, bi-products produced by Brettanomyces or brett—a fungus that's in the same family as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the primary wine fermentation yeast—can impart flavors similar to oak but often with a far less desirable outcome. Brett typically enters with winery from the vineyard through a vector like a fruit fly and contaminates wine barrels. There are six different species of Brettanomyces, each with its own propensity to create flawed or faulted wine. Brett produces volatile phenols, chemicals similar to alcohols, including 4-ethylphenol (4-EP) which at low levels contributes leather and earthiness but at 140 ppb noticeably taints wine with medicinal aromas of barnyard, Band-Aid and mouse. Its ever-present partner, 4-Ethylguaiacol (4-EG), clocks in at 600 ppb and in much smaller amounts than 4-EP that add bacon, spice, clove, or smoke; aromas generally positively associated with oak influence. There's no mistaking isovaleric acid, which even at the high sensory thresh - old of 1,000 ppb smells of stinky cheese or feet. If vanilla is the easiest of odorants to detect for beginners, volatile acidity might well be the hardest. Volatile acidity, or VA, is caused by acids that can volatize at room temperature. Harder to detect in wines that are served chilled, VA can show up as acetic acid (vinegar) or ethyl acetate, the combination of acetic acid and ethanol produced as a by-product of Saccharomyces cerevisiae or other yeasts including brett. Untrained tasters rarely detect volatile acidity in wine at low levels because it can be perceived as heightened sweetness and as high-toned aromas that are not unappealing. With a high sensory threshold of 600–900 ppb, acetic acid is elusive, but above threshold it smells unmistakably like vinegar. It can issue from almost all of the aerobic microbes in wines including acetobacter as well as anaerobic microbes like pediococcus. In small amounts, ethyl acetate can smell and taste like balsamic vinegar and pickles, at times emulating the dill or resinous notes that are common in lightly dried American oak. It can add complexity to many wine styles including Amarone della Valpolicella, Chianti and red Burgundy. With a lower odor threshold of 200 ppb, its presence is considered a fault when it reeks of nail polish or paint thinner and exceeds the perception of the fixed acids—tartaric, malic and citric. Unlike brett, there are legal limits in the United States for volatile acidity in wine: White wine can't exceed 1.1 g/l and red wine 1.2 g/l, but the average level of volatile acidity in dry wine is less than 400 ppb, although it may range up to 3 g/l. Volatile acidity exists as a minor component in red wine, but when it's detected above threshold, it's the result of decisions made during winemaking. Fortunately, filtration methods including cross flow and filtration through polyurethane beads can remove the offending compounds, resulting in a sound wine. If vanilla is the easiest of odor- ants to detect for beginners, volatile acidity might well be the hardest.

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