Rod Byers: Can technology help your wine?
Special to The Union
I was bumping around online the other day and came across a story about intelligent wine barrels.
Intelligent barrel technology claimed to enhance specific wine characteristics including red fruit, spices, freshness and tannin levels, not to mention telling winemakers when to top up and when their wine has finished aging, all thanks to an intelligent band of sensors surrounding the barrel.
Really? Can barrels do that? On a closer look, the story, posted in a wine journal in 2009, has since completely dropped out of view. It appears that intelligent barrels either did not work or were too expensive.
Looking for evidence of what happened to intelligent barrels led through a thicket of wine-techy sites about reverse osmosis, micro-oxygenation, or wine electro-dialysis, things designed to make wines softer, fruitier, and more flavorful.
Clark Smith, author of “Postmodern Winemaking,” Wine & Spirits Magazine’s 2013 Book of the Year, uses high-tech winemaking to find a wine’s “sweet spot.”
Smith claims the sweet spot is the point at which the wine has achieved its ideal taste and aroma determined by adjusting (removing) a percentage of alcohol.
Sophisticated techniques like reverse osmosis happen in the winery. What about once we get the bottle home? Can technology help our wine there?
Once the bottle’s home, hoping to improve the taste and flavor of wine usually centers around two issues.
One is taking an expensive wine intended for long-term cellaring and hurrying the process along. The other, and far more common, is the quest to turn a $4.99 “sow’s ear” into a $15-plus “silk purse.”
The most common form of home-based wine technology, after the corkscrew, is some type of wine aerator. Aerators first appeared on the market around 2007.
Wine aerators go between the bottle and the glass and mix air into the wine as it flows through it causing aeration and increasing exposure to oxygen. You might consider it a lazy, but faster form of swirling.
There are a variety of choices out there. Respirer, Soiree, Decantus, Rabbit, and, industry leader Vinturi (vinturi.com $29.95) all add air to your wine on its way to your glass.
BevWizard (bevwizard.com $24.95) takes it one step further. In addition to adding aeration, the BevWizard includes high intensity magnets, which are supposed to alter the tannins as wine is poured past the magnetic field.
The manufacturers claim the device “takes away bite, bitterness and harshness and adds value to inexpensive, every day reds.”
Newest to the market (release summer 2015) will be the Sonic Decanter (sonicdecanter.com $249), a machine which blasts wine with ultrasonic energy resulting in a “smoother more integrated mouth feel and a smooth, flavorful lingering finish.”
The Sonic Decanter is filled with water, the wine bottle inserted, and high frequency sound waves transform, they claim, the molecular and chemical structure of wine accelerating the aging process.
They say it improves wine quality including softening tannins, increasing aromas and enhancing flavors.
Nathan Myhrvold, (nathanmyhrvold.com) author of the “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking,” suggests getting rid of the aerators and try something called hyper-decanting by putting your wine in a blender. Myhrvold claims that 30 seconds at high speed in a blender does a better, faster job aerating wine than a decanter.
Can putting your wine in a blender or blasting it with sound waves really be the right thing to do before enjoying a glass?
The only way to know would be to gather up as many gadgets as you could, select your control wine, set up a double-blind taste experiment, invite your friends, and start pouring, or, you could find a wine geek with a blog (wellesleywinepress.com) who has already done it.
I was reminded, after reading through several similar sites, of a legal trial where both sides present their expert but contradicting witnesses. There were plenty of testimonials and plenty of people claiming junk science.
Many seemed to agree that the devices worked better with red wines rather than whites but couldn’t agree which of them worked best. None of them seemed routinely better than using a decanter with no aeration device at all.
Some tasters preferred the wine poured directly from the bottle without using even the decanter.
What stood out was that on any given day, for any given wine, for any given taster, or even the same taster on the same day with the same wine, the results might be different.
These devices could benefit one category of wine drinker. If you find red wines unpleasant because they are too harsh, you really might find them more pleasing if you put them in the blender first.
Hyper-decanting a wine, or pouring it through an aerator, decanting it from one container to another, or simply letting it breathe in the bottle on the counter, has a softening effect on red wine.
Believe it or not, even if it sounds like heresy, you might also find that putting the wine in a microwave for 10 to 15 seconds can help as well.
The proof is clearly in the eye of the beholder. If you like the results, go with it although it is a little easier to experiment with a $5 wine in a blender rather than a $50 wine.
Oh, I did learn one new word in this process: to aldouze or to wait for the wine to breathe. I’ll bet even the Jeopardy champions didn’t know that.
Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. He is the host of the local television show Wine Talk. You can find information about his spring Sierra College Wine Classes at http://www.pinehillwineworks.com and he can be reached at 530-802-7172.
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