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Searching for the characteristics of award-winning wine

Award winning wines tend to be more complex, with the highest awarded wines having high ethanol and sugar levels.

Scientist sliding a wine and survey through a window.
Dr. Carolyn Ross in the WSU Sensory Laboratory in the School of Food Science at WSU-Pullman.

That’s the finding of a recent paper in the Journal of Wine Research from Washington State University researchers, working with a colleague at the University of Lisbon in Portugal.

The researchers wanted to know what characteristics were prevalent in the wines that won the top awards at an international wine competition.

The paper resulted from crunching the data from several years of the Mundus Vini Challenge, which is held twice a year in Germany.

They found that large wine challenges tend to favor wines with high ethanol and sugar levels. And flavors often associated with sweetness, including exotic fruits in white wines and dried fruit and spicy in reds, increase the chances of winning top prizes.

Conversely, wines with acidity and astringency in whites and of green/vegetative and red berries in reds tended to not receive the top awards.

But simply making the wines sweeter, or less vegetal, may not make an award-winning wine.

“Complexity and harmony are hard to define,” said Carolyn Ross, WSU professor in the School of Food Science and an author on the paper. “According to the data, you may want to add more exotic fruits, or spiciness. But that may have an impact on the broader attributes of the wine. The fact remains it will always be very impressive to make a wine that wins an award at a prestigious competition.”

Previous research has looked at factors like pH level or acidity of award-winning wines, but the complexity those wines made the results hard to quantify simply. This new data breakdown helped scientists find more specific characteristics, Ross said.

Wine awards can have a huge impact on marketing, so competition at these prestigious competitions is fierce.

“Some people will decide between two different wines just because one has an award sticker on it,” Ross said. “There’s a major positive impact for a winery.”

Media Contacts

Carolyn Ross, WSU/UI School of Food Science, 509-335-2438