2013 Digital Wine Communication Conference Summary Part II: The Wine Mosaic

As a couple of my more recent posts mentioned, I recently became the recipient of the Donnafugata Award for Excellence in Enotourism, which allowed me the opportunity to attend the 2013 Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC) in Rioja, Spain. I met so many great wine writers, bloggers, and other various wine folks, and learned a significant amount of interesting material within the span of a jam-packed 2 day conference.  I have already written about Benjamin Spencer’s talk about Vineyards and Volcanos, and today I will summarize the mission of The Wine Mosaic.

I was first introduced to The Wine Mosaic during the Origins of Flavor: Grapes seminar led off by Rémy Charest from The Wine Case and Palate Press.  During this seminar, Rémy gave us the run down on how Wine_Mosaic_logo_The_Academic_Winograpes contribute to the flavors and aromas of a finished wine, related to both intrinsic qualities (aromatics, acidity, sugar, reduction or oxidation) and extrinsic qualities (such as region, maturity level, and winemaking decisions).  He made it a point to say that while the flavors, tastes, and aromas of a wine at the beginning of the winemaking process are primary all from the grape, throughout the winemaking process, more and more is added by the winemaker such that it becomes more difficult to taste the true flavor of the grape, as it has now been masked by interactions with other winemaking compounds.  However, though the wine does go through these changes, while the wine ages over time, the nature of the grape is once again expressed as they “take their rightful place again”.

After Remy’s introduction, we were introduced to The Wine Mosaic, a non-profit organization.  According to their website, which you can visit by clicking here, “The Wine Mosaic project champions vinodiversity by protecting and promoting original grape varieties in the Mediterranean”.  In other words, the mission of The Wine Mosaic is to protect and to try to popularize lesser-known grape varieties, so that biodiversity of wine grapes is improved and so that the market selection for wine consumers is more varied.  The Wine Mosaic sites also states that out of the hundreds of grape varieties out there, only 20 or so are commonly used for winemaking throughout the globe, making up 80% of the world’s production of wine.  Why is it that only 20 or so grape varieties get to be almost the only grapes that get to be wine?  What about the other hundreds of varieties?  The fewer wine grape varieties we grow and make into wine, the lower the diversity in the vineyard and the increased risk of eliminating lesser-known varieties that may very well make just as fantastic a wine as the more common 20 or so.

Toward the end of the conference, we saw The Wine Mosaic again during the Grand Tasting event, which was an opportunity for us to taste some of these lesser-known grapes turned to wine that are a part of the

Photo By Alberto-g-rovi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By Alberto-g-rovi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

project they have established to promote and increase the biodiversity of wine grapes in the Mediterranean (and eventually all over the world?).  I thought this was a fantastic experience, as I always love to try new things!  I was impressed with the quality of many of these lesser-known wines, which had me scratching my head as to why more wine growers and wine makers do not incorporate them into their selections.

This also got me thinking:  has anyone even done any studies looking at the sensory characteristics of these lesser-known wines?  Specifically, has anyone examined the sensory characteristics of these wines with market potential in mind?

Ask and you shall receive, it seems! While looking for papers on this topic, I almost immediately stumbled upon one that will be published in early 2014 (though is currently available online), related to the sensory characteristics of 18 different “minor” Spanish varieties.  In line to be published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, a group of Spanish researchers aimed to determine the sensory characteristics of wine made from 18 minor Spanish grape varieties, and to determine if any of these characteristics match those that are known to be positive for consumers, thus indicating potential varieties for carving a new niche in the wine market.

What they found was that certain wines possessed more positive sensory characteristics than other wines, and that several (if not all) of the varieties/varietals (wines were made with 100% of the grape variety) may be successful in the wine market.

Without going into major detail, they found that floral aromas, which are known to be important for wine quality, were most important in the following varieties/varietals: Mandón, Manto Negro, Pampolat girat, and Fogoneu.  In terms of red berry and fruit aromas, which are also seen as positive to consumers, Valenci tinto and Mandón were considered to possess the best aromas.

For color intensity, which greater color intensity is known to be a positive attribute, Excursach and Bobal stood out among the rest.  In terms of acidity, consumers tend to prefer higher acidity, with Excursach, Mandón, Gorgollasa, Valenci tinto and Esperó de gall pulling ahead of the other wines tested.  In terms of aromatics, Gorgollasa was found to have the highest aromatic intensity, while Bobal and Pampolat girat had the “finest aroma” of the wines studied.

It was interesting to learn in this study that the Spanish Designation of Origin (DO) did not seem to matter in regards to the sensory characteristics and overall quality of the wines.  No significant differences were noted in the sensory quality of the wines from different Spanish DO’s.  What was found to contribute to flavor and aroma differences in the wines were the viticultural conditions of which they were exposed to during the

Photo by Flickr user Silverman68

Photo by Flickr user Silverman68

growing season.  While there were no differences in red wines, white and rosé wines did show differences in sensory characteristics depending upon viticultural practices.  Specifically, herbaceous aroma and flavors were correlated with kilograms of grape per vine, as well as the number of bunches per vine and the number of bunches per shoot.  The study also found that total woody shoots per vine and woody shoot weight negatively affected aroma and taste of the finished wine.

From my own personal tasting of lesser-known wines during the Grand Tasting with The Wine Mosaic, and the sensory analysis by the team of researchers in Spain, I feel as though it is very important to educate wine consumers at all levels about the benefits of maintaining and expanding the biodiversity of wine grapes, and to educate consumers about all the different types of wine that they are missing out on but would surely enjoy!

I encourage you to read more about The Wine Mosaic and their mission by visiting their website or their Facebook page, and please tell them that The Academic Wino sent you!

Do you have any experience with lesser-known grape varieties/wines? Please feel free to share your comments or questions!


Further Reading:

García-Muñoz, S., Muñoz-Organero, G., Fernández-Fernández, E., and Cabello, F. 2014. Sensory characterisation and factors influencing quality of wines made from 18 minor varieties (Vitis vinifera L.). Food Quality and Preference 32: 241-252.