Wine experts delight in the complex flavors of the aged grapes, tracing taste to grape types, soils and vineyard.
Now researchers have gone a step further, using complex chemical analysis to determine the home forest of the oak barrels used in the casks where the wine aged.
Researchers led by Regis D. Gougeon of the University of Bourgogne in Dijon, France, report their findings in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
They studied four types of French wine made in 1998 and aged in oak barrels from nine different French forests — Jupilles, Saint Palais, Bertrange, Limousin, Sud Ouest, Troncais, Citeaux, Darney and Bitche.
Using mass spectrometry to determine the thousands of various compounds in the aged wine, they were able to pinpoint which forest had provided the wood for each barrel.
The findings could prove useful to wine connoisseurs and historians, the researchers said, concluding that their findings produced "chemical representations of the way such noble nectar can shape, on the (tongue) of the wine taster, some of the outlines of the scene of its birth."