$5.3 million to find out what defines Australian Shiraz
International recognition of wine quality is often based on the concept of terroir — the characteristic taste and flavour of the wine is a direct result of the natural environment (eg, soil, topography and climate) in which it has been produced. Indeed, terroir is the basis of the French wine appellation d’origine contrôlée (controlled designation of origin) system which has resulted in only sparkling wines from the Champagne region being able to get the appellation ‘Champagne’.
How can Australia get its wines recognised in this manner?
According to Dr Brian Croser AO, deputy chair of Wine Australia, “Australia makes wines of exceptional quality and finesse that reflect their provenance and terroir, but they don’t currently receive the international recognition they merit.
“It is these wines that will most quickly elevate the image and reputation of all wines we produce. We are focused on building international recognition for our wines to increase demand and the price paid for all Australian wines.
“We already know that unique Australian terroirs exist and that climate, topography, soil chemistry and soil physical properties are the most important factors contributing to the differences between wines from different sites.”
Now a collaborative suite of research projects to be undertaken by a world-leading group of research institutions, the University of Adelaide, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, National Wine and Grape Industry Centre, South Australian Research and Development Institute and the Australian Wine Research Institute has been announced by Wine Australia.
The six-year, $5.3 million investment in new research and development projects will look at Australia’s unique terroirs and how they influence wine style and quality.
“What these projects seek to do is to understand how these environmental signals translate into physiological changes in grapevines that result in changes in berry composition and in turn result in the expression of terroir in wines,” said Dr Croser.
“When we understand how these environmental signals work, we can then understand how winegrowers can refine the expression of terroir and uniqueness in their vineyards, so that they can produce wines that express their unique terroir with greater confidence and obtain the premium such wines warrant.
“We have focused on Shiraz because this is the variety that predominates in Australia. Shiraz is the most planted variety, with 26% of Australia’s vineyard area. We have the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, and 40% of Australia’s exports valued at more than $10 per litre FOB are Shiraz.”
Dr Leigh Schmidtke from Charles Sturt University at the NWGIC will lead the sensory-focused benchmarking project looking for correlations between the sensory properties of a relatively large and diverse set of Australian Shiraz wines, their chemical profiles and the climatic regions from which the grapes were sourced.
Associate Professor Cassandra Collins at the University of Adelaide will lead the vineyard terroir project that will determine marker compounds and chemical profiles for unique Australian Shiraz wines and to understand how vines respond to express terroir.
An international expert perspective will be added through the top sommeliers Wine Australia is hosting as part of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in April. They will help classify a subset of Australian Shiraz wines and selected international Shiraz wines through a blind tasting.
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