Here's why wine snobs should probably be called bacteria snobs

Thursday, 28 November, 2013
Joseph Bennington-Castro on io9
Differences in wine quality between vineyards have long been attributed to processing techniques and seasonal variation. But research now suggests that regional differences between wines are shaped by microbes — specifically, fungi and bacteria. Cultivating certain grape microbes may actually improve wine flavor.
Without yeasts (fungi) and bacteria, wine wouldn't be possible. These hungry microorganisms break down and digest the sugar in grape juice, and this process — called fermentation — results in alcohol. In recent years, researchers have begun pinpointing specific microbes that improve the overall sensory complexity and flavor of wine. Meanwhile, other microbes have been implicated in wine spoilage.

Despite these finds, yeasts and bacteria are generally left out of the conversation when people discuss the distinctive flavors of wine. Instead, regional differences in wine quality is usually tossed up to the specifics of the fermentation process, such as the size of the container or the temperature used, or the soils in which the wine grapes grew.

"But we know from other research areas that environmental conditions can shape microbial communities," said Nicholas Bokulich, an enologist (wine scientist) at the University of California, Davis. It stands to reason, then, that the microbial communities on the surface of wine grapes could differ between vineyards, and this may influence wine quality. "But other research groups thought that this wouldn't be the case — that wine grapes all contained the same microbial communities."

So Bokulich and his colleagues set out to test if the microbial communities on wine grapes changed depending on where the grapes were growing.

To read more, click here