Researching for a nice bottle of wine to take to a party, I did what many of us do and performed an internet search. High on the results and distracting me from my task was the following story: World’s most expensive wine goes on sale (link to story) on a bottle of wine selling for an eye-watering £122,300 (USD $195,000). I then wondered, ever the analytical chemist, how do they know it’s the real thing and could these buyers benefit from an isotope ratio mass spectrometer (IRMS) of the bottles of wine in their cellar!
A few clicks later and I was finding stories of auction sales of a single bottle for over USD $300,000 (link to story) and a case of 114 bottles making a record sale at auction of USD $1.6M (link to story).
I was hooked now, and as some of the reasons given for the huge sums invested in such wines include rarity, famous owner, vintage and very importantly, region and vineyard, could my casual remark about IRMS and the benefits it has for authenticity testing play a part?
Testing for Authenticity and Geographic Origin of Wine
Horacek et al published an article, Control of Authenticity and Geographic Origin of Austrian, Slovenian,Romanian, Montenegrin and Argentinean wine, (downloadable PDF), discussing the results of investigating the stable isotope composition (C and O) of wine samples. They claim to have found significant isotope variations within samples from the same country as well as between samples from different countries.
Our own application note, ¹³C and Simultaneous ¹⁸O and ²H Isotope Analysis in Ethanol with Thermo Scientific DELTA V Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometers, (downloadable PDF), is another useful read and defines the configuration required for such testing. The method demonstrates excellent results and looks ideal for origin testing of wine.
By the way, increasingly the provenance of wine has become an issue and there was a criminal fraud case with a big media story last year where a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling millions of dollars of counterfeit wine (link to story). He not only faked labels but mixed and blended lower-priced wines so that they would mimic the taste and character of rare and far more expensive wines.
Like what you are learning?
Most laboratories will look at alternative or complimentary techniques and, even though I had written an blog post a few months ago, Is Your Wine Authentic: An Ion Chromatography Method (link to post), I was captivated by the poster: Related Seasonal and Geographical Differences in Wine from California’s Central Coast (link to pdf). This work describes how a high performance liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (LC-MS) configuration was used successfully for the analysis of several wine varieties from different areas to show simultaneous detection and relative quantification of the wine’s components.
It’s been a fascinating subject to research, and I will leave you with this unbelievable but true story. In 1989, a bottle of 1787 Château Margaux, from Thomas Jefferson’s collection, was valued at over $500,000 by its owner, a New York wine merchant called William Sokolin. At a dinner, it was accidentally knocked over and broke; the insurers paid out $225,000 for the loss of the wine.
And, in case you still remember on how I got started on this topic, I went to the party with a cheap bottle I picked up from my local supermarket!
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Is wine analysis methods or isotope ratio analysis of interest to your laboratory? If so I would like to hear your thoughts and experiences