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Published:  23 July, 2008

By David Williams

The fallout from the South African Sauvignon Blanc scandal' continued this week with UK wine analysis firm Corkwise accusing The Guardian newspaper of presenting misleading' and skewed' information about the high level of pyrazines found in Cape wines tested at the company's lab. The report, by the paper's consumer affairs correspondent Felicity Lawrence (The Guardian, 24 January), said that the results of Corkwise's tests on wines submitted by UK retailers were suspicious', with 'unusually high' levels of pyrazines - chemicals naturally present in Sauvignon Blanc and responsible for the herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc flavours - being found in Sauvignons from South Africa, but not in those from New Zealand. Corkwise MD, Geoff Taylor, rubbished the report, however, saying that his company's research was at a very early stage and that it did not provide anything approaching satisfactory evidence for the addition of flavourings. Taylor also said that the number of South African wines submitted (200) was 20 times greater than the number of New Zealand wines (10), which meant any comparison between the two countries based on Corkwise's current findings would be bad science'. Taylor told Harpers that nobody' would be able to determine if high levels of pyrazines in a wine occurred naturally or were the result of additives. You're looking for a natural product in a natural product. It's like looking for orange flavouring in orange juice - very difficult,' Taylor said. What you can do is build a profile over the long term, and look into those vineyards or wineries which have consistently high levels, which is what we're trying to do. I think that the retailers which have submitted their wines for the tasting are being very diligent and responsible about this,' he added. The authorities in South Africa continue to treat the issue seriously, however. As the 2004 harvest begins in the Cape, the South African Wine & Spirit Board is sending in teams of inspectors into vineyards unannounced, to draw samples of grape juice which will be tested and then compared to the finished wines. Producers found guilty of adding flavourants could be criminally prosecuted under South African law and prevented from having their wines certified. It is essential we monitor all levels of producers in all regions to send out a message to any potentially errant producers that no illegal winemaking practices will be tolerated,' said Wine & Spirit Board management committee chairman, Jakob Deist. We view the allegations that some wineries could be guilty of using flavourants in an extremely serious light and we have gone to great lengths to develop the parameters in which wineries can be tested.'