September 2, 2013
Grape Said To Be Healthiest In The World Has Its Genome Sequenced
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Scientists in Uruguay have announced the sequencing of the Tannat grape, which is used in making red wines that have the largest concentration of tannins -- an anti-oxidant that combats cell aging.
"A wine made with Tannat has twice the tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot Noir,” said Francisco Carrau, a vintner and chemistry professor at the UNU. “Sequencing the grape's genome will allow vintners to protect a valuable niche in the world's $300 billion wine industry."
The same research team is also looking into how soil conditions, temperature, climate, altitude and other environmental factors – collectively known as terroir – affect grape genetics with respect to wine's aromas and color.
"Winemaking has always been an art. Today it is also a science," Carrau said. "If we can determine through biotechnology the factors that determine a wine's aroma and color, we can potentially apply that information to create more pleasing and valuable products."
"Such information can also valuably guide decisions about where to plant new vines, which typically produce their first fruit after five years and their best fruit in about a decade,” he added. “Having the ability to predict successful vineyard location holds enormous value."
Tannat is considered to be the national grape of Uruguay. The nation is the fourth largest wine producer in South America with about 21,000 acres of vineyards. More than one third of the grapes grown in Uruguay are Tannat, which are used to produce the country's signature wines.
As Uruguay’s wine industry continues to grow, the nation’s vintners have been expanding the production of Tannat grapes. The country currently exports approximately 17 percent of its production. Revenues from wine exports have grown about 500 percent since 2004.
Specializing in Tannat or Tannat blends, vineyards in Uruguay have begun to distinguish between older vines descended from imported European varieties and new clones proliferating today. The newer vines are inclined to produce wines with higher alcohol levels but less acidity. These wines also exhibit more complex fruit characteristics.
"Discovering in more detail the health-promoting compound in the Tannat grape requires us to continue work on its genome,” Carrau said. “I suspect that in future, such information will help the variety become far better known around the world."
Tannat grapes were imported into the United States during the late 19th century. However, they were largely ignored until the last decade or so when South America Tannats began to receive international acclaim.
Californian vintners began embracing the grape during the 1990s, but today they can be found in Oregon, Arizona, Virginia and Texas. In 2002, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approved a petition to add Tannat to the list of grapes that could be made into a varietal wine.