Wine metabolome

By Panagiotis Arapitsas

According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), wine is defined as the beverage resulting exclusively from the partial or complete alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes. On the other hand, wine scientists in order to define, study and understand wine, divide it up into its individual components. In fact, the classic scientific approach to study any sample is to use targeted methods able to provide information about a small and well-defined number of metabolites (e.g. only some specific sugars or lipids or polyphenols). Lately, scientist started to use holistic/untargeted analytical approaches and try to follow the largest number of metabolites possible, without pre-define the metabolites of interest. Researchers working in this field known as metabolomics, are usually surprised in front of the richness of the wine metabolic fingerprint.In fact, between others, wine is a unique food/beverage because of its wide metabolic space coverage. Wine could be the richest food/beverage in term of number of metabolites. Let's see why:

1. Grape is the necessary raw material to produce wine. We could assume that grape contain an analogous number of metabolites with most the fresh fruits and vegetables. However, due to economical, cultural and historical issues, grapevines comprise a high biodiversity, since thousand of cultivars are known and cultivated around the world. Therefore, wine-makers often use more than one cultivar for the production of a wine, in order to combine their characteristics and thus the metabolites, and produce more complex and equilibrate final products. Usually the cultivars mixed have a very diverse sensorial profile, which can be explain by the diverse metabolic profile.
Examples of metabolites found in grapes: sugars (e.g. glucose and fructose), sugar alcohols (e.g. inositol), lipids, vitamins, amino acids, amines, bounded and free terpenoids or other volatiles/aromatic compounds, bound and free polyphenols (e.g. anthocyanins, flavanols, flavonols and stilbenoids), organic acids (e.g. tartaric acid) and several sulfur compounds.

2. The mandatory process for wine production is the alcoholic fermentation, by added or indigenous yeasts. However, this process is not limited to the production of ethanol from sugars. The known metabolism of yeast include several metabolites, belonging to the cycle of Krebs, the Ehrlich reaction, the liberation of several bounded metabolites, the fragmentation of big metabolites (e.g. lipids), the polymerization of others (tannins), catabolites of tryptophan ( serotonin and melatonin), sulfur compounds, etc. The presence of about 10% of ethanol help to make soluble (and maybe more bioavailable) several lipophilic metabolites, where in most of the other liquid foods are eliminated or partially removed as sediment.

3. For the production of many red wines the malolactic fermentation by bacteria follows the alcoholic one in order to stabilize the final product. The bacteria, next to the production of lactic acid from malic acid, consume also several other metabolites and deliver various new, enriching further the wine metabolome.

4. During winemaking, the oenologist uses several techniques in order to improve the quality of the final product. For example the microxygenation, which provoke thousands of changes to the metabolic profile of the wine, affecting the color stability and the texture of the wine (Arapitsas et al., Plos one, 2012).
A second important example is the addition of the the antimicrobial and antioxidant agent SO2. Due to its reactivity, SO2 has a great influence to the wine metabolic fingerprint and quality (Arapitsas et al., J Chrom A, 2014; Arapitsas et al. Scientific Reports, 2018; Roullier-Gall et al., Food Chemistry, 2017).
A third important practise is the use of wooden barrels. Wine, during its contact with the wood, is enriched with several metabolites extracted from the barrel, while various new metabolites are formed due to the introduction of the oxygen through the porous of the wood (Gougeon et al., PNAS, 2009).


5. Already the above four elements introduce many metabolites to the food called wine. But there is a final important player: time. Consumers prefer to eat and drink the majority of the foodstuff more fresh possible, and long storage is correlated with sensorial and nutritional value loss. Wine is one of the few foods where aging is positively correlated because the consumers know that the quality of several wines improves with the time. Many premium red wines (Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone, Burgundy Pinot noir, Naoussa, Tannat, etc) are very aggressive when young, but with time/aging they getting smoother, they gain sensorial complexity and as result they increase their value. The sensorial changes occurring during aging are translated in thousands of reactions and metabolic variations (oxidations, reductions, metathesis, polymerizations, hydrolysis, etc) (Arapitsas et al. Metabolomics, 2014; Jeandet et al., PNAS, 2015; Arapitsas et al. Scientific Reports, 2018; Roullier-Gall et al., Food Chemistry, 2017 ).


The about 2000 known wine metabolites are just the top of the iceberg, because many detectable metabolites are unknown and many more are undetectable with current analytical technology. Recent publications in wine metabolomics reported over 10 000 features (signals) registered in a wine holistic analysis. Such a complex matrix could be comperated only with the human metabolome. All the above make wine one of the most interesting and appealing model vehicle to study complex metabolic environments.


Panagiotis Arapitsas studied Oenology and Beverage technology at T.E.I. of Athens (Greece) and later he earned his M.Sc. in Methods of Synthesis in Organic Chemistry and his Ph.D. in Polyphenols Chemistry and Food Quality at the University of Florence (Italy). During this period, his research activity was divided in laboratories of Analytical Chemistry (T.E.I. of Athens, University of Gent, University of Florence, and University of Uppsala), Organic Synthesis (University of Florence), Electrochemistry (University of Florence), Microbiology (Universities of Turin and Perugia), and wineries (Greece and Italy).
In 2010 he joined the Food Quality and Nutrition Department of Fondazione Edmund Mach where his activity focused in Food and Wine Metabolomics. In particular, his object is to establish methodologies for investigating fruit and wine metabolomes, by developing analytical protocols mainly with LC-MS techniques, data treatment and biomarker identification and validation.