Scientists have sequenced the genome of high-value grapes in order to demystify the chemical processes that create a wine’s aroma.

The invaluable potential application of understanding in wine-making is the new objective of scientists who sequenced the genome of the high-value Tannat grape, from which “the healthiest of red wines” are fermented.

Uruguayan chemistry professor Francisco Carrau and scientist Massimo Delledonne of Italy sequenced the Tannat grape, pressings of which, thanks partly to its many seeds, produces the largest concentration of tannins - an anti-oxidant that combats the ageing of cells.

Wines made from the Tannat are known as the most healthy of red wines due to their high levels of procyanidins, said to be good for reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and encouraging healthy blood clotting, researchers said.

“A wine made with Tannat has twice the tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot Noir. Sequencing the grape’s genome will allow vintners to protect a valuable niche in the world’s USD 300 billion wine industry,” said Mr. Carrau.

Researchers are probing a secret of nature of potentially great commercial interest as well: how soil conditions, minerals, Sun, temperature, climate, altitude and other environmental factors affect the expression of genes in grapes and the chemistry of wine’s aromas and colour.

“Winemaking has always been an art. Today it is also a science. If we can determine through biotechnology the factors that determine a wine’s aroma and colour, we can potentially apply that information to create more pleasing and valuable products,” said Mr. Carrau.

“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. Having the ability to predict successful vineyard location holds enormous value,” Mr. Carrau said.

Tannat is the ‘national grape’ of Uruguay, South America’s 4 largest wine producer with 8,500 hectares of vineyards, researchers said.

More than a third of the grapes grown are Tannat, from which the country’s signature wines are produced. “Discovering in more detail the health-promoting compound in the Tannat grape requires us to continue work on its genome. I suspect that in future, such information will help the variety become far better known around the world,” said Mr. Carrau.

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