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Nepalese wine – an exotic luxury or just another rip off?
When we say wine, Nepal is not really a country that comes to mind. Yet looking at the nations’ geographic placement, ours is a topography that allows for higher quality production or a more exotic concoction. Seeing that the ingredients that go into Nepalese wine are supposed to be from a relatively high altitude,there are some small plots of land dedicated to grape vines, while the majority is made from a combination of fruits and herbs. The most common fruits found in our wines are small yellow raspberries (aiselu), and Himalayan barberries (chutro). Nettles, palm, pear, fruit roots, herbs, honey, spices, flowers, chutro (barberry), orange, pineapple, apple, apricots, mountain berries, banana, plum, lime, lychee, oranges and tea also feature in Nepalese winemaking. Black grapes are used in the production of red wines. Our wines tend to fall at the sweeter end of the spectrum taste-wise, and the best examples have a spiced, almost port-like quality to them.
However, while the base ingredients of wine are important, there are chemical factors at play that determine the color and texture of the wine, along with its quality. A study by Pandeya et al.,2018, evaluates the quality of wines produced in Nepal in terms of their total phenolic (a large group of several hundred chemical compounds that affect the taste, color and mouthfeel of wine), flavonoids (antioxidants mostly found in red wines), and their antioxidant activities, anthocyanin, tannins content, and color parameters using spectrophotometric methods.
The study explores the antioxidant properties of wine and its health benefits, along with the correlation of these compounds to wine color parameters in both red and white wines to better understand their roles in correlation to Nepalese wine quality. The study also compares the results obtained from Nepalese wine with international samples to get a clear standing on the standards of our wine.
With results that validate previous studies in the field, secondary metabolites are found to be significantly higher in red wines compared to white wines, and the phenolic and flavonoid compounds correlate simultaneously to each other and their wine color. Interestingly, anthocyanin content, which is responsible for the color of wine, is found to be 5 to 29 times lower than in samples from other countries and do not correlate with wine color.
In contrast to many international wines, the prices of our wines do not correlate with their phenolic content. While higher phenolic content would imply a better quality and high medicinal values, thus resulting in a higher sum, the price range of Nepalese wines are completely at random. Some of the wine samples do not clearly mention the raw material on the bottle, leaving consumers unsure about the contents, and whether the raw materials are produced locally or purchased from other areas. So are we really getting the unique blend of high altitude herbs, fruits and spices, or are we paying for luxury only to consume a run of the mill version?
Comparing the Nepalese sample of 19 commercial wines (12 red wines and 7 white wines) to international wines, Our wines display lower levels of phenolic content in red wines by an average of 6.5 times, which directly imply a compromised quality. However, the phenolic content in white wines in the study was found to be comparable to the white wines from other countries. The variation in phenolic content of wines is warranted seeing as it depends on the raw materials used, their species and variety, climate, its vinification procedure, aging, and storage (from Stratil et al., 2008). In similar context, the total anthocyanin content was found to be lower by an average of 17 times than in samples from other countries. The findings of Pandeya et al., 2018 study show that the medicinally important secondary metabolites (e.g., phenolic) are almost 7 times lower compared to the red wines produced in many other countries.
Therefore even though Nepalese wines are placed on a pedestal considering our high altitude raw material content, based on this study, it is safe to say that while helping yourself to some white wine may be enjoyable, displaying a penchant for Nepalese red wine may not be very advisable. The same beverage that proved to be a popular indulgence among an already extravagant populace may not carry the same medicinal benefits when purchased in Nepal.
Pandeya A, Rayamajhi S, Pokhrel P, Giri B. Evaluation of secondary metabolites, antioxidant activity, and color parameters of Nepali wines. Food Sci Nutr.2018;00:1–12. https://doi.org/10.1002/fsn3.794
Stratil, P, Kuban, V, Fojtova, J (2008). Comparison of the phenolic content and total 605 antioxidant activity in wines as determined by spectrophotometric methods. Czech Journal of Food Sciences, 26(4), 242-253.