An Ag+ SPE method combined with Deans’ switch heart-cutting MDGC–MS/Olfactometry approach for identifying unknown volatile thiols in wine

Wine aroma is a crucial quality criterion. A multitude of volatile compounds have been identified and correlated to the aroma attributes perceived in wine. Volatile thiols are a category of volatile sulfur compounds that are well-recognized as potent aroma-impacting odorants contributing to various aroma attributes of many wines because of their low odor detection thresholds (ng/L). However, volatile thiols are highly reactive and generally present at ultra-trace concentrations (ng/L) in wines, causing major analytical difficulties. For more than two decades, the identifications of new volatile thiols were nearly exclusively achieved by the use of organomercuric compounds for thiol extraction, followed by conventional gas chromatography and mass spectrometry/olfactometry (GC–MS/O) for chromatographic separation, odorous zone profiling, and MS detection. However, such analytical protocols required the use of highly toxic organomercuric chemicals and are often laborious. Meanwhile, olfactometry data of other unknown thiol odorous zones has been reported but their identities were not pursued.
This work focused on the aroma of premium red wines and aimed to identify unknown volatile thiols. First, we developed a silver ion solid-phase extraction (Ag+ SPE) method for thiol isolation. Ag+ SPE cartridge selectivity, cartridge wettability, reservoir material, and elution reagent were evaluated. The developed Ag+ SPE method was safe, simple, scalable, selective, and artefact resistant, suitable for qualitative identification tasks. Low thermal mass (LTM) Deans’ switch (DS) heart-cutting multidimensional GC–MS/O (H/C MDGC–MS/O) was optimized for its performance using three model volatile thiol analytes. Significant impacts of instrument parameters including main host oven temperature, H/C width, and cryogenic trapping on the separation and detection were observed. Main host oven at high temperature was required to maintain flow balance for H/C operation. Narrow H/C width was selected to avoid irregular chromatographic behavior. Cryogenic trapping at the optimal temperature was needed to effectively capture the H/C effluent at the inlet of second column and to significantly enhance peak detection. The development of the Ag+ SPE H/C MDGC–MS/O protocol was applied to screen a selection of several premium Bordeaux red wines presenting a bouquet with intense empyreumatic nuances. In selected wines, a number of odorous zones with such aroma descriptors were characterized. Supported by olfactometric results, retention data, and corresponding mass spectra, the identification of odorous thiols that were not previously reported in wine was described. The identification of unknown thiols expands our understanding of the volatile molecular markers contributing to the aroma quality of premium wines.

Authors: Chen Liang1* and Darriet Philippe

1Univ. Bordeaux, INRAE, Bordeaux INP, UMR1366 Œnologie, ISVV, F-33140 Villenave d’Ornon, France

*corresponding author: liang.chen@u-bordeaux.fr

Keywords: red wine, aroma, volatile thiols, extraction, identification

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