Study: Oaky taste lingers longer than fruity, apple flavor in Chardonnay

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 18, 2014 

Wine Harvests.jpg

A worker spreads out freshly picked Chardonnay grapes at a vineyard near Paterson.


The oaky taste of Chardonnay fermented in wooden barrels really does linger on taste buds longer than the fruity, apple flavor.

A recent study by Washington State University researchers found that the coconut oak taste lasted for a minute, while the fruity apple flavor was gone after 43 seconds.

"It's very much something that people notice," said Carolyn Ross, WSU School of Food Science associate professor.

Winemakers and others in the Washington wine industry have noted that consumer tastes appear to be changing, with more people preferring the unoaked or lightly oaked wines.

Understanding what wine drinkers enjoy can help winemakers adapt their processes to bring out those flavors that appeal the most, Ross said. And wine quality has been linked to how the tastes finish in a wine drinker's mouth.

The idea for the study was prompted by a student in Ross' sensory evaluation undergraduate class, who asked if there was research on fruity flavors finishing earlier than oaky ones. When Ross looked, she said she couldn't find research that backed up the anecdotes.

Ross and former WSU graduate student Emily Goodstein decided to examine how the tastes finish and what consumers prefer.

Researchers used a model white wine with added flavor compounds, Ross said. Thirteen people were trained for the sensory test.

Each consumer sipped wine, swished it in their mouth, spit it out and timed how long the taste lingered, she said.

"We saw such a clear difference between the fruity finish and the other ones," Ross said.

Ross and WSU graduate student Allison Baker have continued this work in red wines using Syrah. They also looked at how the composition of the wine can change how the tastes linger.

The conclusions with red wine weren't as clear, Ross said. Red wine has more competing flavors than white wine.

With red wine, they were able to determine that wines with a higher level of alcohol also had tastes such as bell pepper, coconut, and floral linger longer.

"For wines spiked with floral and bell pepper flavor compounds, this longer finish was more acceptable compared to their low ethanol counterparts," Ross said.

And wine drinkers who spent more on a bottle of wine on average liked the wine less if it was spiked with coconut or floral flavor, Ross said.

The white wine study was completed in 2012, but it took some time for researchers to finish analyzing the data. An article on the study was recently printed by Food Quality and Preference, an official journal of the Sensometric Society and the European Sensory Science Society.

The red wine study was finished last year, and articles are expected to be published soon, Ross said.

Expanding on this research could help wineries determine how to better make wine to target specific groups, Ross said. Being able to determine characteristics such as age, gender, consumption patterns and area of residence could help determine patterns in taste preference. But more taste testers would be needed in order to see trends.

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