Did you know there are 266 ways to describe SA's Chenin Blanc wines?
Chamomile is likely to remind you of a soothing cup of tea. While vanilla and custard sound like pudding ingredients for a cold day. But a new study has found that they're also among the hundreds of sensory words experts use to describe South African white wines.
In this study‚ described as the first of its kind, scientists from Stellenbosch University’s Institute of Wine Biotechnology‚ the Faculty of AgriSciences and the Department of Information Science set out to "visualise the sensory space" of over 7,000 Chenin blanc and Savignon blanc wines.
The researchers' starting point was the annually published John Platter Wine Guide to South African Wines. Several hundred new wines are entered into the guide each year; each bottle is assessed by Platter's wine experts, who report on its sensory attributes and quality.
The number of words used by Platter wine panelists to describe the local white wines analysed in this study tallied up to a staggering total of 110,295.
Since the researchers were only interested in aroma attributes‚ they removed all non-sensory words from the original data set and eliminated duplicates. To do so, they employed techniques that are usually used to analyse “big data” and pinpoint computer hackers.
A total of 266 and 250 different aromatic sensory words were then identified for Chenin blanc and Sauvignon blanc wines respectively.
“Although some Chenin blanc wines share similar sensory descriptors with Sauvignon blanc wines‚ our study showed two distinct styles of wines," explains Dr Hélène Nieuwoudt‚ a senior researcher at Stellenbosch University's Department of Viticulture and Oenology.
“The main sensory dimension of our Chenin blanc wines is related to complexity‚ and includes a spectrum ranging from fresh and crisp wine styles towards complex wines with noticeable wood character‚” he added.
The sensory cues were used to develop a colour-coded aroma wheel and "unique lexicon" for describing South Africa’s diverse styles of Chenin blanc wines.
These findings have important implications for the labeling of local wines‚ the university said.
• The results of this study‚ titled 'Modelling the sensory space of varietal wines: Mining of large‚ unstructured text data and visualisation of style patterns'‚ has recently been published in 'Nature Scientific Reports'.