A single enzyme is primarily responsible for making aged wines have that oh-so-enticing old wine smell, according to researchers from the University of Strasbourg in France. The name of the enzyme, however, isn’t nearly as romantic as the idea of aging like a fine wine. Prepare for your eyes to glaze over, because it’s a mouth full: CYP76F14.
CYP76F14 is part of the cytochrome P450 family of enzymes, which make and break certain molecules and chemicals. It’s not simply a messy jumble of letters and numbers, though, it’s essentially the ultimate creator of fine wine.
CYP76F14 gets to work before the juice ever leaves the grape. It takes a plant compound called monoterpenol linalool and turns it into (E)-8-carboxylinalool. Then, as the wine matures, (E)-8-carboxylinalool slowly turns into wine lactone, which is a good smelling compound that can be found in everything from apples, to oranges, to wine grapes. Wine lactone, which only made it into the wine thanks to CYP76F14, helps give old wine that glorious old wine smell.
To find CYP76F14, researchers took a sample of red and white French wine and ran each through something called a liquid chromatograph mass spectrometry. That’s the last bit of scientific jargon here, we promise.
Of course, aging is just one factor that goes into the smell and taste of a wine. For many winemakers, especially natural biodynamic winemakers, a finished wine is the culmination of good soil and good vines. But it takes more than terroir and a winemaker’s passion to make a good wine. It takes enzymes with unsexy, scientific names. Scientifically analyzing a large sample of grapes will help researchers “learn more about how common plant molecules are transformed into specific wine aroma,” Nicolas Navrot, lead researcher and professor at the University of Strasbourg, said in a press release.
Sure, science can take some of the romanticism out of wine making and drinking. Yet without serious science on wine we wouldn’t know important facts like how red wine is essentially liquid viagra, or that wine actually does improve creativity.
The study that found CYP76F14, which was published in the plant science journal New Phytologist, could help guide grapevine breeding and impact scents in the food and beverage industry in general.
Luckily for the everyday consumer, you don’t have to commit the name “CYP76F14” to memory to enjoy its effects.