Process analyzers: What makes wine good?

Using modern instrumentation to unlock the ancient art of winemaking.


Can modern instrumentation technology figure out the difference between a high-class bottle of wine and plonk? Winemakers in Italy are trying to figure out that very question.

While many wine drinkers don’t get past a quick sniff before that first sip, wine makers must be closely attuned to the color, aroma, taste and overall quality of each glass. The oldest association in the Italian wine industry, the Unione Italiana Vini (Italian Wine Union), includes members from every professional organization involved in the winegrowing supply chain.

The union has developed comprehensive quality standards for the winemaking process and provides a variety of services to help ensure high-quality products. As a result, it takes all aspects of the wine experience very seriously. It relies not only on experienced wine connoisseurs to ensure the quality of the wine, but also utilizes Agilent chemical analysis equipment in an innovative central laboratory system to ensure a consistently high level of quality, environmental protection, and the ongoing integrity of the winemaking tradition.

Innovations in chemical analysis, gas and liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry have advanced the study of key components of the wine experience, such color, taste, and smell, to the point that it has attained the levels of analytical chemistry. To ensure overall quality and identify compounds that degrade flavor, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) instruments identify biological contaminants. Identified contaminants are then analyzed with Agilent mass spectrometry (MS) techniques to detect the presence of specific components, such as agricultural chemical residue like insecticides and fungicides.

Spectrophotometers, which help provide basic colorimetric analysis, ensure color quality control by analyzing the absorption by various compounds over the entire UV-visible spectrum and comparing the results with known spectrographic profiles.

Sensory gas chromatography (GC) technology makes it possible to create a precise correlation between aromas perceived and instrumental analysis, providing the ability to distinguish individual components that make up an aroma.

Agilent GC/MS instruments and techniques also help identify components that contribute to a wine's aroma by analyzing components such as the methoxypyrazines found in grapes and wine, seasonal variations in the fermentation process, the acidic composition of red wines, and the effect of techniques for aging wines.

While these instruments and techniques have ensured the quality of wine for the Unione Italiana Vini, they have also had a significant impact on its laboratories' speed and productivity. The latest generation of Agilent instruments, such as Agilent's HPLC Rapid Resolution Liquid Chromatograpy (RRLC) speeds analysis 20-fold while increasing resolution by 60%, according to the company.

"Agilent Technologies' products, which have been scaled and expanded over the years to provide constant high-level multifaceted performance, enable our laboratory to offer innovative services in the oenological chemistry field," explained Francesco Pavanello, Laboratory and Services Manager of Unione Italiana Vini.

—Edited by Peter Welander, process industries editor, ,
Process Instrumentation & Sensors Monthly
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