“…it has not been scientifically proven that the flavor even exists“, says Morgenthal.
The article relates that a team of researchers has been fast at work (late into each night, presumably) trying to understand this phenomenon.
It’s not like the burnt rubber character has not been widely identified as a real sensory finding in South African wines. And it’s not like the character has been understood as a real chemical phenomenon by others (….) or that it has been linked to disulfide flaws (….) or even published anywhere (certainly not summarized here or here).
The flaw is not unique to South Africa (sorry guys, can’t chalk it up to terroir). I’ve detected it in numerous wines from all over the globe. It certainly can be very off-putting, even in tiny amounts. This flaw has been studied in the past. The aroma has been linked to oxidation of ethyl mercaptans resulting in sulfides and disulfides.
So the question now is what to do about it. I don’t mean in the cellar or in the lab. Yes, they could take a critical look at growing and production methods and identify and prevent the causes of this flaw. But Morgenthal’s deliberate dismissal of the presence of this flaw indicates that the South African wine industry rightfully perceives this as an economic threat. What is not acceptable, is a blatant attempt to spin the facts and dismiss a real phenomenon.
Morgenthal is not alone in this spin campaign. Scientist Florian Bauer is doing nothing short of helping cloud the issue. Another case in point of how convenient the “cult of subjectivity of wine” is in deflecting criticism and protecting business.
So here are my predictions for how this will be resolved:
First a mixed cohort of subjects will be selected to “assess” how people perceive this wine flaw. Of course, no screening will be done to separate informed wine assessors from neophytes. It will also be helpful to the cause to not screen the subjects for history of allergies, brain trauma, depression, PTSD or ADHD (all conditions that affect sensory perception). This will result in “evidence” that burnt rubber is not as prevalent (or at least as detectable) as those picky wine critics say it is.
Subsequently, work will be done to identify the cause of the burnt rubber aroma (because nobody has done it yet…). When that substance is “identified”, the results will be trumpeted all over the world and in-boxes will be cluttered with press releases. Lab work will continue to explore ways to alleviate the problem while other “empirical” studies will be conducted (with similarly selected cohorts) to find a sensory thresholds for burnt rubber. These results will further muddy the realm of sensory perception of wine.
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