In what scientists are hailing as the greatest breakthrough in a generation, Australian researchers have identified the aromatic compound that produces the black pepper smell in red wine.

Boffins at the Australian Research Institute spent eight years trying to find the compound, dubbed Rotundone, which was discovered last year, but kept secret while patents were secured.

The black pepper aroma is typical of many top-end Australian Shiraz wines.

The discovery could revolutionise winemaking, enabling winemakers and winegrowers to alter the way they produce their wine in order to minimise or maximise certain flavour characteristics.

‘Once you know what the compound is, you can find out what, in the vineyard or winemaking process, creates it, and therefore maximise it,’ said Jamie Goode, author of The Science of Wine and wineanorak.com.

Dr Allan Pollnitz, a senior researcher on the project, said the discovery was, ‘a very significant breakthrough, perhaps the most significant of a generation’.

Goode said the overall effect of these kinds of discoveries would allow average producers to make better wines.

‘It might help make better cheap wine,’ he said.

Top Australian winemaker Bruce Tyrell agreed, telling the The Australian newspaper that the discovery would help the ‘more commercial end’ of the wine industry but that at the top end, he was more ‘inclined to take what nature has given me’.

Written by Oliver Styles