By Staffan Lindgren, University of Northern BC and 2nd Vice President of the ESC
A few weeks ago my most recently graduated Master’s student took a few days off to attend the UNBC convocation ceremony. Knowing her former supervisor’s fondness of red wine (which several of my other graduate students have magically discovered as well – go figure!), and no doubt well mentored in the important aspects of oenology by her entomologist father, she kindly presented me with a bottle of Idaho wine aptly named “Entomology”. The vineyard in question has a series of ‘ology’ wines, and appropriately, the importance of entomology has been recognized in this one. This welcome gift, along with other wines I had purchased solely because they had an insect on the label, caused me to ponder the connection between insects and wine. It should be added that apart from a long-standing preference of certain varieties of red wine, label design and price are pretty much my only criteria for selection of wines to purchase, as my olfactory senses have long been impaired after years of sinus infections.
Insects have had enormous significance in viticulture. Interestingly, pollinators do not appear to play a significant role, as the wine grape, Vitis vinifera L. (Vitaceae) is primarily wind pollinated. The negative impact of one insect on viticulture, on the other hand, provides for a fascinating story of applied interdisciplinarity, long before that concept became a fad. In an entomological detective story, elements of international politics, bureaucratic intrigue, the struggle between Darwinian evolution and creationism, invasive insect ecology, plant resistance, systematics, are interwoven like a movie script leading to the establishment of the fledgling discipline of economic entomology, with several entomologists the heroes (prominent among them Charles V. Riley) saving the damsel in distress (French viticulture) (Sorensen et al. 2008). I speak of course of the impact of the grape phylloxera, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae (Fitch) (Hemiptera: Phylloxeridae), an introduced insect from North America, on the French wine industry. At one point this little insect threatened the very existence of the industry, which at the time supported a sizeable portion of the French economy (Smith 1992, Sorensen et al. 2008). A simple Google Scholar search reveals that phylloxera remains a significant issue and is subject to continuing research worldwide (Granett et al. 2001). Corrie et al. (2002) even noted that phylloxera “is a viticultural pest that in the past has devastated vineyards worldwide, yet little is known about this insect’s biology”.
Apart from the “Entomology” wine, which I haven’t tasted yet, I have four other wines, falling in two categories. Two are organic wines, and have butterflies on the label, while the other two labels are adorned by ants. The descriptions below are from other sources, as my inferior olfactory system cannot do wines justice. Suffice it to say I like them all.
Nuevo Mundo Reserva Cabernet-Malbec represents the type of wine I enjoy with a “big bouquet of dark cherries and blackberry with hints of sweet spice on the palate” (hint to future students!). The labels of all their wines have butterflies, no doubt signifying that it is an organic product and certified 100% carbon neutral. This wine is produced in the Maipo Valley, Chile, aged in French oak for a year, and sold for slightly under $16 in BC Liquor stores.
Domino de Punctum Lobetia is an organic Tempranillo wine produced by the Punctum Estate in La Mancha, Spain. It is described as having a “cherry colour with a violet shade indicating its youth. On the nose you’ll find fresh cherries and other red berries, with similar notes on the palate that shows moderate tannins”, and for $12.99 this is a very price-worthy wine.
Fabulous Ant is a Pinot Noir from Tolna, Hungary, which at $12.99 is a great buy. I have not been a fan of Pinot Noir, but I quite enjoy this wine described as having “cherry, strawberry and clove aromas on the nose and a silky, medium-bodied palate”. The label features an ant carrying a cherry, rather than a grape, perhaps indicating the predominance of cherry. This is a wine that I would not have picked as Hungary doesn’t strike me as a primary wine producing country, at least not of the types of wine I enjoy. However, this wine was awarded a Gold Medal at the Berlin Wine Show 2013, reflecting the emergence of yet another interesting wine producing region worth paying attention to.
Formiga de Vellut is a Carignan-Grenache-Syrah blend from the Priorat region in Spain, and is the most expensive of the wines I have chosen. At under $30 it is still worthy of a try by any entomologically inclined wine aficionado, however. I rarely spend that much on wine, but with ants on the label, how can I resist? It is described by Anthony Gismondi (http://www.gismondionwine.com/), who gave it a rating of 91 points, as a “spicy, floral, curry, black peppery, liquorice scented red.” He goes on to write: “Love the dry, supple palate and its smoky, peppery, black cherry jam and meaty, licorice and cedar flavours.” I agree with Mr. Gismondi (at least with respect to what I am able to perceive)!
Finally, the interesting Idaho wine Entomology. Produced by the Cold Springs Winery located halfway between Boise and Twin Falls, Idaho, this is a Cabernet-Syrah blend which according to the vineyards own website is a medium bodied wine with red fruits and dried figs on the nose and blueberry on the palate. The label depicts a Polyphemus moth, which is described as a “pollinator moth”, so the entomology part may be a bit off target, but hey, if the wine is good we can live with some slight miscues.
There are obviously many other wines with an insect connection that I have not seen. I am hoping for suggestions in response to this blog post! Actual samples are welcome as well….
Corrie, A.M., R.H. Crozier, R. Van Heeswijck, and A.A. Hoffmann. 2002. Clonal reproduction and population genetic structure of grape phylloxera, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, in Australia. Heredity 88: 203–211.
Granett, J., M.A. Walker, L. Kocsis, and A.D. Omer. 2001. Biology and management of grape Phylloxera. Annual Review of Entomology 46: 387-412.
Smith, E.H. 1992. The grape phylloxera. A celebration of its own. American Entomologist 38(4): 212-221.
Sorensen, W.C., E.H. Smith, J. Smith, and Y. Carton. 2008. Charles V. Riley, France and Phylloxera. American Entomologist 54(3): 134-149.