“The Dress” of Wines: When a Beetle Plays Wine Games on You


1 minute Read

ladybug on grape

Last week, the Internet was abuzz with controversy over The Dress. In case you missed it, a certain light made an objectively blue and black dress appear to some to be white and gold. Heated debates ensued. But why was everyone so worked up?

Well, when your senses are telling you one thing, and the reality is entirely different, perplexity—even outrage—is natural. And that’s the exact reaction you might get when tasting a ladybird-infested glass of Riesling.

Yes, we mean a bug infused glass of wine.

Let’s back up.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc grapes contain a group of chemical compounds called methoxypyrazines, specifically 3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine (IBMP) and 3-isopropyl-2-methoxypyrazine (IPMP). IBMP and IPMP give Sauvignon Blanc grapes their vegetal notes. So, in the right proportion, these compounds are good. Woohoo!

The problem is when unnatural amounts of methoxypyrazines get into your wine. So how does that happen?

Ladybirds, i.e. ladybugs, or Harmonia axyridis, live in vineyards across the globe. Like methoxypyrazines, sometimes they’re great. They often stay on pest patrol, eating plant-destroying aphids.

But sometimes, ladybugs end up making their way into winemaking equipment. As you can imagine, that puts a lot of stress on these little bugs—hey, I wouldn’t want to be crushed in a press either—enough stress to make them emit an IPMP of their own as a defense mechanism.

Just a small portion of the potent chemical is enough to tweak the flavor of a large portion of wine. So imagine putting this compound (which, as we mentioned before, naturally occurs in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc), into your Riesling wine batch. The result is a Riesling that tastes like a Sauvignon Blanc.
wine meme
The Riesling’s more neutral, fruity bouquet is replaced with berries and greener scents, with a palate to follow. Now, don’t get us wrong, ladybird taint is rare, and won’t necessarily make your wine resemble a quality glass of Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, if you ever come across a glass of ladybugged wine you might smell rotten peanuts. But who knows? You might get lucky. Lucky enough to create an Internet meme.

Header Image via Shutterstock.com

Aliza Kellerman is an NYC based booze writer and marketer. She has written for Alcohol Professor, Cocktail Enthusiast, and BarNotes, amongst others. Find her at @aleezabeeza and alizadrinks.com

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