GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – I’ve just posted the first of three articles about travel and wine touring in the region as a GenevaLunch feature article; the other two will appear Friday 6 February and Monday February: Swiss wines, followed by the Friendship Triangle on the area where France, Switzerland and Italy come together.
Here’s the first, on over the border French Jura wines and region.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The 7 Ceps wine competition is an interesting variation on the theme of “best of” that for most competitions means best of a grape variety or a politically defined region. These are wines from a geographically linked area, the vineyards in the greater Mont Blanc region with producers in Italy, France and Switzerland. The borders fall, and relationships among winemakerse are built. The competition, now in its 13th year, also aims to help wineries improve the quality of their products by providing information charts based on the results of the 70 judges’ assessments. All wineries entering the competition receive this, whether or not they have winning wines.
Here is the list of winners, announced 10 November, by category:
GENEVA, NEUCHATEL AND VALAIS
Gold: Domaine de Montmollin, Auvernier, AOC Neuchatel red, Pinot Noir, 2009
Silver: Jean Pierre Dalloz, Le Landeron, AOC Neuchatel red, Pinot Noir, 2011, Oeil de perdrix
Bronze: Cave Colline de Planzettes, Sierre, AOC Valais red, Pinot Noir, 2010
CANTON VAUD WHITE
Gold: Cave Cidis, Morges, AOC La Cote Blanc 2011, cuvée Euphonie
Silver: Uvavins Cave de la Cote, Morges, AOC la Cote Blanc 2011 cuvée Trilogie
Bronze: Artisans Vignerons d’Ollon, AOC Chablais Blanc 2011 cuvée Faveur des Muses
Bronze: Domaine de Marcelin, AOC la Cote Blanc 2010 cuvée Réserve blanche
CANTON VAUD RED
Gold: Domaine de Terre Neuve, Saint Prex, AOC La Cote Rouge 2010 Grand Cru Merlot
Silver: Domaine de Marcelin, Morges, AOC La Cote Rouge 2010 cuvée Esprit carmin
Bronze: Cave Cidis, Morges, AOC La Cote Rouge 2011 cuvée Gamaret Réserve
AOSTA VALLEY WHITE
Gold: Institut Agricole Régional, AostA, Vallée d’Aoste Blanc 2011 cuvée Perce Neige
Silver: Kiuva ScM, Arnad, Vallée d’Aoste Blanc Pinot Gris 2011
AOSTA VALLEY RED
Gold: Rosset Terroir, Aosta, Vallée d’Aoste rouge Doc 2010, Cornalin
Silver: Institut Agricole Régional, Aosta, Vallée d’Aoste rouge Doc, 2011, Pinot Noir
Bronze: Institut Agricole Régional, Aosta, Vallée d’Aoste rouge Doc, 2010, Fumin
Bronze: Coopérative de l’Enfer, Arvier, Vallée d’Aoste rouge, 2011, Enfer d’Arvier
Bronze: Maison Vigneronne Grojean, Quart, Vallée d’Aoste Doc Rouge, 2011, Torette Supérieur
AOC BUGEY CRU WHITE
Gold: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, AOC Bugey manicle blanc 2011, cuvée de l’Amandier
Silver: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, AOC Bugey manicle blanc 2011, cuvée des Eboulis
AOC BUGEY CRU RED
Gold: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, AOC Bugey manicle rouge 2009, cuvée la Truffière
AOC BUGEY RED
Gold: Domaine Monin, Vongnes, AOC Bugey rouge 2010, Cuvée les Falconnières
Silver: GAEC Maison Angelot, Marignieu, AOC Bugey rouge 2011, Cuvée reflet du Terroir
Bronze: Domaine Ducolomb, Lhuis, AOC Bugey rouge 2011
Bronze: Jean Christophe Pellerin, Saint Sorlin en Bugeu, AOC Bugey 2009 Cuvée Chatière
AOC BUGEY WHITE AND ROSE
Gold: Domaine DUCOLOMB, Lhuis, AOC Bugey blanc, Chardonnay, 2011
Silver: Caveau Sylvain Bois, Béon, AOC Bugey blanc, Roussette, 2011, Cuvée Coteau de Chambon
Silver: Terroirs de Chevigneux, Culoz, AOC Bugey Blanc, Chardonnay 2011, Domaine de Bel Air
Bronze: Domaine J Christophe Pellerin, Saint Sorlin en Bugey, AOC blanc, Chardonnay 2011
Bronze: Domaine JC Pellerin, Saint Sorlin en Bugey, AOC blanc, Chardonnay 2009, Cuvée Harmonie
COTEAUX DE l’AIN
Gold: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, IGP Coteaux de l’Ain Mondeuse blanche 2011
Silver: Caveau Bugiste, Vongnes, IGP Coteaux de l’Ain Molette 2011
Bronze: Domaine de Mucelle, IGP Coteaux de l’Ain Pinot Noir 2011
VIN DE SAVOIE, RED AND WHITE
Gold: Domaine du Vieux Pressoir, Les Marches, AOC vin de Savoie blanc, Roussette 2011, Cuvée Prestige
Silver: Domaine de Veronnet, Serrières en Chautagne, AOC vin de Savoie blanc, Roussette 2011
Silver: Stéphane Héritier, Clermont, AOC Vin de Savoie Frangy Blanc 2011
Bronze: Philippe Grisard, Cruet, AOC vin de Savoie Blanc, Roussette 2011
Bronze: Fils de René Quenard, Chignin, AOC vin de Savoie Chignin Bergeron Roussanne 2011
Gold: Emilienne Chappuis, Corbonod, AOC Seyssel blanc 2011
VIN DU JURA
Gold: SCV des Domaines Henri Maire, Arbois, AOC Vin Jaune Arbois, 2004
Silver: Domaine Richard, Le Vernois, AOC Vin du Jura blanc Savagnin 2007
Bronze: Domaine Richard, Le Vernois, AOC Vin du Jura blanc Chardonnay 2009
Bronze: SCV des Domaines Henri Maire, Arbois, AOC Arbois Blanc Chardonnay 2011
We’re eating more than 400 grams of cheese a week per person
BERN, SWITZERLAND – The Swiss cheese industry benefited in the first five years of free trade with the European Union, a study released 30 October shows. Exports slowed down in 2011 due to the strong Swiss franc, but in the first half of 2012 the trade balance remained positive.
The free trade market also appears to have helped us eat more cheese in Switzerland, with consumption up 12 percent since 2000, as imports helped bring down prices and increase variety.
We now eat 21.44 kg of cheese per person per year in Switzerland, more than 400 grams per person a week. Germany and Italy come close and the French eat slightly more, according to figures from the Swissmilk.
The country produced 182,000 tons of cheese in 2011, up from 161,000 seven years earlier. Fresh cheese accounts for more than 25 percent of the total, the largest share, followed by semi-hard cheeses with 21.5 percent and Gruyere with nearly 16 percent of production.
Switzerland steadily lost market share in the EU during the 1990s. By 2003 it was exporting 40,000 tons of cheese to the EU annually, down by about 12,000 tons from a decade earlier. From 2002 to 2007 protective measures were gradually removed and by 2007 an open market was in place.
A study commissioned by the Office of Agriculture and carried out during the first six months of 2012 shows that as a result, Switzerland has a positive trade balance, both in terms of quantity and monetary value. It increased production and exports to the EU while also importing more cheese, mainly soft and fresh cheeses.
Swiss cheese imports into the EU have increased more than cheese imports overall, increasing Swiss market share, particularly in Germany, Austria and France.
The negative element for the Swiss in the trade shift is the fall in Emmenthal exports, down 32 percent between 2003 and 2011, while the export of all other cheeses combined has risen 100 percent. Emmenthal lost its earlier special status with the EU, which allowed conditional imports.
Bordeaux takes top prize, Ticino winery named world champion
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The Earl Roumage winery in St Germain du Puch, France, won both the Best Merlot Varietal (single grape) and the Best Foreign Varietal Merlot prizes at the Mondial du Merlot wine competition, the Vinea Association in Sierre announced Friday 28 September.
Cantina Monti from Cademorio in canton Ticino won the Syngenta Merlot World Champion prize, given to the wine that has the highest number of points over three vintages.
The Best Swiss Varietal Merlot went to the Hammel winery in Rolle, canton Vaud, for its Villeneuve wine from Vaud’s Chablais region.
La Romaine winery in Flantey, canton Valais, won the prize for the best blend and the Tilleuls winery in Vétroz, canton Valais won the Vinofed prize for the gold medal wine on which the judges most closely agreed.
The Older Vintages prize went to Clos St Thomas, Kab-Elias, in Lebanon.
The awards were given to wines from a number of different production areas: of the 25 gold medals, 16 went to Swiss wines, 6 to French, 2 to Romanian and one to a Lebanese wine.
The competition is one of the relatively smaller international ones, reflecting Merlot‘s unusual role in the wine world. This Bordeaux grape from the Cabernet Franc family has long been used by the French, mainly in Bordeaux blends, but its status as a grape for varietal wines has been low. Elsewhere, it has great popularity in some markets as a varietal wine, and in canton Ticino is has been for many years the main grape. It is one of the world’s most widely grown grapes, but its ability to provide top quality varietal wines is a fairly recent development.
The Mondial du Merlot is becoming known in the world of varietal competitions as a competition of reference, say the organizers.
Nearly 300 wines were presented at the competition, held in August in Sierre, with 160 producers from 17 countries.
The awards were handed to wines from a number of different production areas. The 25 gold medals went to 16 Swiss wines, 6 French ones, 2 from Romania and one from Lebanon.
Best Wine of the Competition – Prix Ville de Lugano
Le secret de Lestrille 2010 AOC Bordeaux supérieur
Earl Roumage – Estelle Lestrille – St-Germain du Puch – France
Prix Syngenta Merlot World Champion producer
Cantina Monti – Cademario Tessin – Switzerland
Best Swiss Varietal Merlot, given by the Vinea Association
Clos du Châtelard Apicius 2009 AOC Chablais
Caves Hammel, Charles Rolaz et Fabio Penta Rolle – Vaud – Switzerland
Best Foreign Varietal Merlot
Le secret de Lestrille 2010 AOC Bordeaux supérieur
Earl Roumage – Estelle Lestrille – St-Germain du Puch – France
Best Older Vintages Merlot
Le Merlot « A » de St-Thomas 2005, Vallée de la Bekaa
Clos St-Thomas- Kab-Elias - Lebanon
The complete results of the Mondial du Merlot 2012 will be published 27 September on the competition’s web site.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – A warning to all French motorists, but also tourists traveling through France starting 1 July: you must have a self-check alcohol test in your car. The new French regulation, designed to cut down on alcohol-related road accidents, calls for every car to carry a valid breathalyzer, meaning the expiry date must be respected. They can be purchased in pharmacies in France or through motoring clubs, says Touring Club Suisse (TCS), and RFI points out that they are also available in French bars.
It is not yet clear if they will be sold at Swiss border posts, for after-hours drivers, but they are already on sale in Britain at ferry and tunnel boarding areas.
Drivers in France are also required to have a warning triangle and a fluorescent safety vest.
Fines for not having the breathalyzer kits, euros 11, begin only in November.
The tests required by law are the classic tube plus balloon tests that you breath into and which give you the results in two minutes. Cost: about CHF1.50 and Britain’s Air and Travel Advisory Bureau suggests you carry two kits.
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – For background, see my article, “Switzerland’s splendid neighbour: Côtes du Rhône”. In October I tasted and discussed at length with winesellers and sommeliers and other journalists a sampling of wines from the Côtes du Rhône region.
Here are my notes on the whites and rosés (reds to follow). The first three wines are from the north, the last two from the southern part of the 200-km long Côtes du Rhône region.
The appellation is followed by the name of the bottle, vintage, winery name and the village:
white: Saint Péray, “Fleur de Crussol” 2009, winery Alain Voge in Cornas
From granite hills, vines over 60 years, 16 months in oak, 100% Marsanne, a wine that will age
Nose: very round, almost honey
Comment – love the nose, a very elegant and sophisticated wine but not for every taste
white: Condrieu, “Invitare” 2010, winery Michel Chapoutier in Tain l’Hermitage
Nose: the typical expected peach, but also with apricot, making it more interesting than some and with good minerality
Mouth: light, dry and long in mouth
Comment – A very fruity and gourmand character, expressive and exuberant although Chapoutier says this will go with time. A lovely, fresh wine.
white: Hermitage, “Chant Alouette” 2008, winery Michel Chapoutier in Tain l’Hermitage
100% Marsanne, bottle is named after the terroir
Nose: honey, but second nose is interesting with richer notes of hazelnuts, butterscotch and caramel
Mouth: good complexity and fresh despite the notes of honey
Comment – A terroir wine that is distinctive and to my surprise when I looked up the technical notes on the web site, only one-third of the wine is oaked with the rest matures in vats. Chapoutier suggests serving it with foie gras, crayfish,lobster or poultry in sauces, white meats, goat’s cheese, blue cheese, spicy dishes and curry. I would have to try it with the last two to be convinced, but the nose is rich enough to support these without the wine being heavy, so he mght be right.
rosé: Tavel, “Prieuré de Montézargues” 2010, winery Prieuré de Montézargues in Tavel
Blend from very small yields of Grenache, Cinsault and Clairette
Nose: citrus, exotic fruits, light cherries
Mouth: refreshing, harmonious, rich yet dry, a great example of a Tavel, one of the classic rosés
Comment – after writing the above I came across this press review page of the wine and had to laugh because it is reviewed by several major wine writers or publications, and to read about the nose you would think it is four different wines. So trust your own judgement here and enjoy it. I like Hachette’s suggestion here of having it with white meat, as I think it deserves more than most charcuteries offer. More delicate salmon colour than some Tavels. Producer Guillaume Dugas has turned to bio, quite successfully if this is any sign.
rosé: Tavel, “Dame Rousse” 2010, winery Domaine de la Mordorée in Tavel
Grenache is the main grape here, grown on sandy soil.
Nose: flowers, white fruits
Mouth: round and full-bodied, chewy, almost has the structure of a red
Comment – A much more vivid pink than some, a clue to its stronger character. It will accept aging better than most rosés
2011 vintage: warm, deep cherry and plum notes await us after unusual year
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Good news arrived from France Monday, that 2011 wines from the Rhone Valley, after initial tastings, show wonderful promise.
Grapes harvested at optimal ripeness are giving wines marked by fruitiness and warmth, with plum and deep cherry notes, verging on the over-ripe, according to the Inter-Rhône growers association.
The wines stand in strong contrast to the 2010 vintage and recall 2009, a very good year.
It was a year that could have been a disaster, as in Switzerland: “a summery spring, a spring-like summer and a perfect autumn”, the group notes. I’ll wait until winter to taste them, when they are closer to what we’ll find on our tables, but when I recently tasted a series of these wines, including several 2010s, I liked a good number of them.
A long ribbon of vineyards running from south of Lyons to Avignon
Côtes du Rhône, literally the “banks of the Rhone”, is a beautiful wine area, the continuation of a broad ribbon of vineyards that starts in Switzerland’s upper Valais region, threading its way through the length of Valais, Vaud and finally Geneva before reaching France.
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Swiss wines and their great neighbours, the wines of France’s Côtes du Rhône region, have some similarities but the differences underscore the reasons for variety in wines, which in the end is what keeps us all so interested in the stuff.
The Rhone river is the first clue, for even in Switzerland the wines to which it gives birth vary hugely, wines that express their terroir particularly well, from the Petite Arvines and Cornalins of Valais to Vaud’s Chasselas and Geneva’s Gamays.
The start of the Côtes du Rhône wine region is Vienne, just south of Lyons, 180 km from Geneva via the autoroute. It ends far south, in Avignon, near the Mediterranean, running through 171 communes and six administrative departments: Ardèche, Drôme, Gard, Loire, Rhône and Vaucluse.
Weekend wine discovery trips from the Lake Geneva region are easy
It provides some beautiful wines, such as the much-touted Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. It is also home to many very good to good wines at moderate prices. They are available in Swiss shops and, for those who long to combine wine-tasting and a weekend jaunt, not too far from home, the Côte du Rhone region is perfect, a short drive to a region where wine tourism is booming. The Vins-Rhone web site is a good starting point; I’ll be doing some touring there in coming weeks and will write more on this aspect of discovering the wines.
Where to begin: the grapes, the geography
Côtes du Rhône wines have suffered somewhat on world markets in recent years by the growth in New World wines. They don’t have the sexiness of Bordeaux wines with exotic prices nor do most have the noble titles of many Burgundies. The size and number of appellations can be daunting and, as elsewhere, the wines range from the mediocre to the great.
Red wines dominate here, 91 percent of the production, but there are some fine whites and roses, not to be overlooked if you’re on a discovery trip.
Getting a handle on these wines isn’t always easy for consumers outside France, but it’s worth the trouble, and the region itself is working hard to make it easier for us, with some success. One statistic that backs up the promising changes seen in the vineyards is that 16 percent of the region’s winemakers are under age 35, a figure well above the national average in France.
Two main varieties, many blends
To start, think of just two main grape varieties, Grenache and Syrah, although a third, Mourvèdre, is also considered a main variety. The region is the cradle of Syrah, which has become known as an international variety, probably the 7th most widely grown grape in the world.
Several other varieties are grown as secondary grapes, mainly to contribute to blends made with these two: 22 varieties officially, but many of them in small quantities. Michel Chapoutier, one of the region’s best-known winemakers, noted for his passion for terroir-strong wines, says “Why just three grapes, when the Swiss have so many? Like a chef, a good oenologist can cook up wonderful blends! Growers here have long planted the grape varieties they know grow best.”
Chapoutier points out that growers learned from the diseases that struck the vineyards in the 18th century and a later over-use of fertilizers. “If we have a good bacteriology of the soil we can have just as much complexity in our wine offerings as with many grape varieties.”
Chapoutier was speaking to a group of sommeliers, wine wholesalers and retailers, and journalists during a day out on Lake Geneva to taste Côtes du Rhône wines (my tasting notes will follow this article).
It was an invitation too good to turn down, since one of the first labels I discovered and explored in France when I moved there from the US several years ago was Côtes du Rhône Villages.
I was ready to move on from dirt-cheap and very strong North African wines proposed by my student friends, the kind that left you with purple lips (blessedly, a short phase in my wine-drinking career).
A French friend suggested that Côtes du Rhône Villages wines, a step up from plain ordinary Côtes du Rhônes, was a good entry into the confusing world of appellations and French wine labels.
Before trying to understand the appellation system, however, take a look at the geography of the Rhone Valley.
In the north, the river is still reeling from its heady rush through the rocky Alps, and granite is a feature of this landscape, very old rock fractured by the Alps, with a soil that holds various minerals. The vines are mainly on the right bank as the river heads south, with the notable exceptions of Hermitage and Croze-Hermitage, where pebbly soil is a feature that adds interest to the granite base.
Further south, the landscape and the soil change significantly. It’s softer here, pebbly soil gives way to sandier soils with loess (windblown sediment) deposited in part by the Mediterranean mistral winds. The mistral, the result of different pressure systems between the north, next to the Alps, and the south, near the sea, can be violent, but growers here appreciate the positive impact it has on their vines.
And in between is a wealth of varied pebbly dry soils that shift as the rivers turns and winds its way south.
From north to south, this is a land of marked seasons: heavy rainfall the gives way to high amounts of sunlight and very warm temperatures.
Appellations, nothing to be afraid of!
The labelling, or appellation system for the region’s wines has three main categories, starting with the top quality regions. Grape yields vary from 46 hectolitres per hectare in the regional appellation to 42 and 42 for Villages and named villages.
- Appellations locales, which covers 18 crus, including the most famous wines of the region
- Côtes du Rhône Villages, wines from 95 communes and within this group 17 have geographic designations that can be mentioned on the label; the region’s web site in English, which offers a handy guide to appellation system, refers to them as “named villages“
- Appellation Regionale Côtes du Rhône, covers wines from 171 communes.
Tasting notes from a series of whites, rosés and reds from the Côtes du Rhône:
Coming next: the reds
New study reinforces earlier data, scoring substances based on harm they cause
London, England (GenevaLunch) - UK media headlines Monday 1 November are mainly about bombs and another potentially explosive subject: which substance is the most damaging, among drugs and alcohol. Alcohol comes out tops, followed by heroin, but before wine lovers panic that this will lead to another French-style effort by some health authorities to ban the beverage or at least ban advertising, the story deserves a closer look.
In particular, the headlines don’t make it clear right away that alcohol’s dubious winning title is part of a strong case made for the British government to reclassify abused substances. The UK classification system serves as a basis for public policy but a respected group of scientists has been arguing that the current classification system is woefully out of date.
Alcohol has a double-whammy impact under their proposed classification, with its record for harm to both users/abusers and people around them. The widespread availability of alcohol, compared to drugs, is a factor. The study measures nine categories of harm to oneself and seven categories of harm to others. They scored each of 20 drugs, including drink, for several forms of harm: addiction, death, mental functioning, loss of relationships, costs to the economy and community.
“Our findings lend support to previous work in the UK and the Netherlands, confirming that the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm. They also accord with the conclusions of previous expert reports that aggressively targeting alcohol harm is a valid and necessary public health strategy,” the authors state.
Professor David Nutt of Bristol University co-authored the study, published 1 November in The Lancet, which confirms earlier findings by Nutt, published in 2007 in The Lancet, that alcohol and tobacco are among the most harmful of abused substances, based on the risks they carry for society. The new study, more complex, responds to criticisms in 2007 of measurement tools.
Nutt was then the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in Britain and he argued for a government reclassification of drugs. He was fired by then Home Secretary Alan Johnson in late 2009, an action that created an uproar in British health and science circles. He and colleagues then formed the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, the group behind today’s paper. The Lancet published a scathing editorial in February 2010, suggesting that the British government had some serious work to do to repair “the damaged relationship that exists between the government and its scientific advisers”.
The new Lancet paper, notes the Guardian, argues that “Alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the UK by a considerable margin, beating heroin and crack cocaine into second and third place, according to an authoritative study published today which will reopen calls for the drugs classification system to be scrapped and a concerted campaign launched against drink.” The newspaper notes at the end that the political debate over how to handle legal and illegal drugs and drink “proved politically damaging to Labour”, which lost the 2010 elections in Britain.
The most harmful drugs to individuals, according to the report: heroin, crack and methylamphetamine. The most harmful to others: alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine.
Most harmful when the two are combined: alcohol, followed by heroin and crack.
- Denmark: 49%
- Isle of Man: 35%
- UK: 33%
- Austria: 31%
- Ireland: 26%
There are two types of wine investors: those who buy wines they want to explore, and who set them aside for later when the sensory value will have increased, and those who buy, gambling that the price will rise neatly. The investors will either sell it or open the bottle when it is time to impress someone, a second business transaction.
“Wine Investment and the Financial Crisis”: plenty of money, little drinking
A research paper published in 2009 and updated in March 2010 by University of Fribourg economics professor Jean-Philippe Weisskopf and co-author Philippe Masset has been making the news around the world, but wine lovers should beware that it’s about the second group, the investors. “Raise your Glass: Wine Investment and the Financial Crisis” , reviews how wine auction prices performed from 1996-2009 in order to determine if wine was a better investment than shares during this period. They concluded that wine was indeed a good investment, confirming popular media reports: “Our findings show that the inclusion of wine in a portfolio and, especially more prestigious wines, increases the portfolio’s returns while reducing its risk, particularly during the financial crisis.”
The study covers a longer period than earlier ones and includes “two significant economic boom phases (1996-2001 and 2003-2007) as well as two major economic and financial crises (2001-2003 and 2007-2009).”
My initial reaction: this is bad news for lovers of fine wine, with investors driving prices so high that top wines are often unavailable to all but the very wealthy – who are not necessarily winelovers.
Australians take advantage of nuclear fallout
Brits and French prefer to shoot ion beams from particle accelerator
Update 17:35 Australian researchers have succeeded, after 11 years of research and several hundred bottles of wine, in coming up with a new carbon-dating method to check the real age of vintage wines. It’s not cheap, but the team that did the research at the University of Adelaide says fraud accounts for about five percent of all expensive vintage wines, and with auctions pushing up the prices to nearly undrinkabe levels, investors want to be sure they are not buying fakes.
One of the researchers, Graham Jones, reported the team’s findings at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in California Saturday 21 March.
Jones and his colleagues found that radioactive carbon dioxide produced from atomic bomb tests in the atmosphere absorbed by grapes can be used to accurately determine wine vintages. “The new technique is similar to radio-carbon dating, used for years to estimate the age of prehistoric objects.
“It works by comparing the amount of carbon-14 (C-14), a less common form of atmospheric carbon, to carbon-12 (C-12), which is more stable and abundant. The ratio of these two carbon forms, or isotopes, has remained constant in the atmosphere for thousands of years,” says the ACS in its press release.
C-12 and C-14 are, captured by grapevines when they absorb .
Jones told GenevaLunch that “the thrust behind the method is that it is different to carbon dating which relies upon radioactive decay of 14C. The bomb pulse method uses dilution of 14C and is much more accurate for the peroid specified.”
Jones told the ACS meeting that “until the late 1940s all carbon-14 in the Earth’s biosphere was produced by the interaction between cosmic rays and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. This changed in the late 1940s, up to 1963 when atmospheric atomic explosions significantly increased the amount of C-14 in the atmosphere. When the tests stopped in 1963 a clock was set ticking – that of the dilution of this ‘bomb-pulse’ C-14 by CO2 formed by the burning of fossil fuels.”
He explains that traces of radioactive carbon are captured by the grape plants through the absorption of carbon dioxide and eventually transformed into alcohol and other carbon-based components of the wine. The “bomb-pulse” of the atmosphere is eventually absorbed into the wine.
“The year that the grapes were grown fixes the age or vintage of the wine,” Jones says. “The carbon-14 isotope ratio of the wine alcohol can therefore be used to determine the vintage of a wine.”
The researchers used an accelerator mass spectrometer to determine the C-14 levels in the alcohol components of 20 Australian red wines with vintages from 1958 to 1997. They then compared these measurements to the radioactivity levels of known atmospheric samples. They found that the method could reliably determine the vintage of wines to within the vintage year.
Jones argues that measuring the age of other wine components such as tartaric acid and some phenolic substances can help improve the reliability of the technique to detect fraud.
“Wine also is a reservoir of environmental data which will complement the results from trees,” the team said in 1999, when they began their research project. The initial results were publishedin 2004.
The university of Adelaide noted in a 1999 press release that “The scientists plan to extract that data from vintage wine series supplied by some of Australia’s leading producers.”
A tough job – all in the interest of science, of course.
The particle accelerator solution
Meanwhile a British firm, the Antique Wine Company in London, which specializes in costly vintage wines, teamed up in 2008 with the National Centre for Scientific Research in Bordeaux, France to develop a fraud-detection system that shoots ion beams from a particle accelerator, comparing the bottle tested with a baseline of wines from the same producer.
The business of wine authentication is clearly taking a scientific turn, which the particle accelerator specialists at Cern in Geneva might like to explore with nearby wine producers in France and Switzerland. Fortunately for those of us limited to checking the quality of our wines by tasting them, no one is yet turning up his nose at this traditional approach.