Australian wine labels may soon use terms like ‘hints of smoked sausage’ and ‘notes of dried hawthorn’ for the labels of wine bottles destined for the Chinese market.
Researchers from the University of South Australia have spent more than two years working to translate wine tasting notes for consumers unfamiliar with many western flavours.
Fifth-generation McLaren Vale winemaker Richard Angove said he realised there was a major problem with the way Australian wines were marketed in China when he went there in 2011.
"I'd be talking about strawberries and blueberries, and the group that I'd be talking to would be on their smartphone, trying to work out what this fruit was that I was talking about," he said.
It’s a familiar story to Chinese-born, Adelaide-based winemaking postdoctoral student Lishi Zeng, who had never tasted a blueberry until she started studying in France as an adult.
"I had heard about blueberry but I never tasted it,” she said.
“I had to go to the market to find it and to taste it, and then to really repeat this sensation again and again, so I can really form that, you know that when I get this flavour, it means blueberry."
There were also other flavour descriptions she found confusing.
"[Teachers] all used terms like cranberry, raspberry, eucalyptus, and I'd never seen that in my life before, so I had no idea how it smells and I can't really describe my wine with those terms,” she said.
“All I find in wine is like apple, banana, or Chinese sausage, or soy sauce, those kind of very Chinese things."
It was this 'lost in translation' problem that inspired researchers Armando Corsi, Justin Cohen and Larry Lockshin from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia to begin the Chinese Lexicon project in 2013.
Dr Corsi says the team interviewed more than 250 people in China to identify local fruits, spices and flavours that were similar to western ones.
"We found that a lot of terms were equivalent between the Chinese version and the western way of describing flavor,” he said.
“For example we found that yangmei is the equivalent descriptor for strawberry, dried Chinese hawthorn is the equivalent of blackberry jam, pineapple is the equivalent of jackfruit, and many others."
Next month, they plan to release a postcard-sized flavour wheel to distribute to Australian winemakers.
Richard Angove says the research is already having an impact on the way his company does business.
"We've already re-looked at our tasting notes and changed the way that we put our tasting notes together. We're looking at what we put on the backs of our bottles in terms of what the wine tastes like," he said.
Lishi Zeng believes westernised tasting notes still hold their appeal for some and can make you sound like an expert.
"For wine lovers it's very nice to use those western terms to describe the wines,” she said.
“But for normal consumers or mass majority of the consumers, we just want to drink the wine. We don't really need to describe it."