Sebastian Vannevel, Jeanne Brand, Astrid Buica, Wessel du Toit
South African Grape and Wine Research Institute, Department of Viticulture and Oenology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Email contact:  smpv[@]

Volatile sulphur compounds are a group of impact odorants with low odour thresholds that can contribute both positively and negatively to wine aroma. The varietal thiols, 3MH and 3MHA, are known to contribute positive tropical aromas to white wines and are most abundant in Sauvignon Blanc wines. The group of compounds contributing negative aromas are known as reductive sulphur compounds (RSCs) as they add a reductive aroma of asparagus, cooked vegetables and rotten egg to wines. All these compounds play a part in and are a result of the sulphur pathway in the yeast cell during fermentation and therefore attempting to increase the concentration of the varietal thiols may directly influence the concentration of the RSCs. The varietal thiols and the low molecular weight RSCs are highly volatile and therefore their sensory perception can change rapidly over time.

AIM: The aim of this study was to investigate the sensory interaction between varietal thiols and fermentative RSCs in wine for the first time.

METHODS: The varietal thiols 3MH and 3MHA; and ethanethiol (EtSH), a RSC, were spiked in a model wine solution and evaluated sensorially using temporal rate-all-that-apply (TRATA). TRATA is a novel method for temporal sensory evaluation of products. It allows for the free concurrent quantification of the intensity of multiple attributes by the sensory panellists. The panel consisted of staff and students of Stellenbosch University that were familiar with the sensory evaluation of varietal thiols in wine. The levels used for 3MH (500 and 2500 ng/L) and 3MHA (100 and 400 ng/L) in this study were based on low and high concentrations as found in commercial South African Sauvignon Blanc wines. The EtSH levels were based on the odour threshold (1 µg/L) and a level at which wines are considered faulty (2.5 µg/L).

RESULTS: The study showed that the positive aromas associated with 3MH and 3MHA can be suppressed by EtSH in certain situation and three-way interactions were found for specific attributes. The negative aromas associated with EtSH show no significant interactions with varietal thiols although 3MH alone can exhibit a reductive aroma. Time plays a significant role in the perception of these sulphur compounds and certain interactions only occur 60-120s after the start of the sensory evaluation.

CONCLUSIONS: Reductive sulphur compounds can significantly suppress the aromas of the varietal thiols 3MH and 3MHA.


Araujo, L.D., Vannevel, S., Buica, A., Callerot, S., Fedrizzi, B., Kilmartin, P.A. & du Toit, W.J., 2017. Indications of the prominent role of elemental sulfur in the formation of the varietal thiol 3-mercaptohexanol in Sauvignon Blanc wine. Food Res. Int. 98, 79–86.

Coetzee, C. & du Toit, W.J., 2012. A comprehensive review on Sauvignon blanc aroma with a focus on certain positive volatile thiols. Food Res. Int. 45,(1), 287–298.

Goniak, O.J. & Noble,  a C., 1987. Sensory study of selected volatile sulfur compounds in white wine. Am. J. Vitic. Enol. 38,(3), 223–227.

Related sheets: