A Nasty Smell

POSTED ON 10/05/2009

Much time, money and energy has gone into the investigation of the rubbery taint that some South African wines exhibit. The late David Wolfe, wine writer, used to call it ‘the taste of apartheid’ while the Masters of Wine who visited South Africa likened it to a ‘rusty nails’ smell.

For a while it was thought that it was linked to the virus problems that plague South Africa’s vineyards. But (a) other countries have virus in the vineyard and no such rubbery or rusty nails taint and (b) when we tasted some older South African wines last year in the Cape, made at a time when virus was prevalent, none of them suffered from this defect.


So Wines of South Africa to their credit decided to investigate the problem by trying to isolate it and get a group of scientists, namely Marianne McKay, Dr Helene H Nieuwoudt and Prof Florian F Bauer, Chemical analytical laboratory, IWBT, department Chemistry, to see if they could, er, nail it.

Following tastings that identified a limited number of wines that showed an off-flavour, the wines were subjected to various chemical and microbiological analyses. And the findings? The data showed that there was no specific link between the described off-flavour and either variety, vintage and region of origin.

For the scientifically minded, the ‘off’ samples were extracted with five organic solvents, ethyl acetate, hexane, ether, acetonitrile and dichloromethane, in order to establish whether the taint was carried over into an organic matrix. The scientists reported: ‘Broad-range chemical analysis showed that the problematic aroma can not merely be ascribed to some deviation in the major chemical compounds’.

Although there was agreement between the sniffers that there were areas of the chromatogram that had associated ‘rubbery’ smells, they say that more work needs to be carried out on concentrating the extracts and optimising the GC conditions.

Conclusion: ‘We have not yet established scientifically what this aroma is or whether it is unique to SA’ i.e. no conclusion.

Worth Noting

Rowley Leigh, Chef and Proprietor of Le Cafe Anglais has joined the LIWF Corkage Club, charging no corkage to customers quoting ‘LIWF Corkage Club’ when making a reservation from today to 14th May. Because the London International Wine Fair is on this week, some London restaurants have agreed to participate in a ‘corkage offer’. Basically, quote ‘LIWF Corkage Club’ when you make a booking and you can take your own wine.

The Joy of Corkage © AlhazenThe Joy of Corkage © Alhazen

The LIWF is working with Square Meal to select restaurants known for food and wine matching. Each restaurant is able to select a level of corkage per bottle, and any rules relating to the number of bottles that may be brought in, plus party sizes.

Where it’s working: Le Café Anglais, Terroir, The Portrait Restaurant, Bentley’s, St Pancras Grand, The Coach & Horses (Clerkenwell), Sketch, Tate Modern and Tate Britain. For further information contact Missy Mailly-Thompson or Naomi Cook
Complete Media Group Relish PR
T: 020 7420 3550 T: 07791 843258
E: melissa@completemediagroup.co.uk E: naomi@relish-pr.co.uk

Wines of the Week

2007 ABC Santa Maria Pinot Noir

Some of Jim ‘Wild Boy’ Clendenen’s more expensive offerings can be a bit OTT in their astringency, but this delightfully fresh raspberryish Pinot Noir from the Central Coast area of California south of San Francisco is exemplary, its perfume and red berry fruit flavours enhanced by a silky delicacy of texture, subtle oak, firm backbone and the freshness that only a cool marginal climate can bring to the party. Around £19, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Marc1Wines, Wines of the World.

1998 Henriot Champagne

A blend of 51% Pinot Noir and 49% Chardonnay, this superb Champagne from one of the best of the region’s houses only shows signs of age in its yellow gold hue, while the wine itself amounts to a fabulous combination of richly toasted brioche aromas and such a seductive, gently foaming toasty mousse of bubbles that the satisfying trace of honeycomb left on on the aftertaste leaves you craving more, until you’re sated. The Wine Society, £35.

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