Tasmanian research project investigates faster sparkling wine maturation

A research project conducted by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture and funded by Wine Australia is exploring the sparkling wine maturation process with the aim of producing a quality product that has been aged for only nine months to a year.

Dr Fiona Kerslake. Image: University of Tasmania (Twitter).

Led by Dr Fiona Kerslake, a fermentation scientist at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, the project is looking at ways to get bottles of sparkling wine to the market faster, reducing the 18-month maturation time to between nine months and a year.

In a post on the TIA website, Dr Kerslake commented: “This could have a big financial impact on industry.

“We are getting our intended outcome of quicker processes, but an unintended, and very interesting, outcome is that some treatments appear to slow down maturation,” she revealed.

Sparkling wines taking part in the project were tasted at six months and a year old, while another tasting took place yesterday (12 June) which featured 18-month-old vintage and non-vintage wines.

Specifically, the scientists are attempting to gain a better understanding of autolysis. Commenting on how they are measuring the overall quality, Dr Kerslake added: “We have been developing a new, rapid, objective measure of sparkling wine quality that could also be used on white wines.

“It’s basically a scan throughout the UV-visible spectrum of light and from that we can get a fingerprint of the phenolics that are in the wine”.

Among the methods being tested to speed up maturation, but maintain quality, are the use of ultrasound and microwaves as well as the employment of certain enzymes during secondary fermentation and increased temperatures during maturation.

The project was established in 2010 at a cost of AUS$1.43 million and also has support from the University of Tasmania’s Central Science Laboratory and several Australian winemakers.

The first phase of the project looked at the impact of viticulture practices such as leaf removal, crop load and pruning techniques on the characteristics of sparkling wine produced in Tasmania.

Among the wineries reported to be taking part in the project are Hill-Smith Family Vineyards, Apogee Tasmania and Josef Chromy.

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