From NewScientist (Dec ’08) Plug in, turn on, pour out:
Over the years, inventors have come up with dozens of widgets that they claim can transform the undrinkable or bring the finest wines to perfection without the long wait. Sadly, there’s little scientific evidence that most of them work… Looks like you’re stuck with the plonk.
Or are you? Fortunately, there is one technique that stands out from the rest. It is backed by a decade of research, the results have been published in a peer-reviewed journal and the end product has passed the ultimate test – blind tasting by a panel of wine experts. No fewer than five wineries have now invested in the technology.
The secret this time is an electric field. Pass an undrinkable, raw red wine between a set of high-voltage electrodes and it becomes pleasantly quaffable. “Using an electric field to accelerate ageing is a feasible way to shorten maturation times and improve the quality of young wine,” says Hervé Alexandre, professor of oenology at the University of Burgundy, close to some of France’s finest vineyards.
Not everyone has the wherewithal to wait for the finest wines to age for 20 years, during which “wine becomes less acid as the ethanol reacts with organic acids to produce a plethora of the fragrant compounds known as esters.” The Chinese market that has a huge and burgeoning appetite for better wines, so:
They pumped the wine through a pipe that ran between two titanium electrodes, fed with a mains-frequency alternating supply boosted to a higher voltage. For the test wine, the team selected a 3-month-old cabernet sauvignon from the Suntime Winery, China’s largest producer. Batches of wine spent 1, 3 or 8 minutes in various electric fields…The team then analysed the treated wine for chemical changes that might alter its “mouth feel” and quality, and passed it to a panel of 12 experienced wine tasters who assessed it in a blind tasting…
The results were striking. With the gentlest treatment, the harsh, astringent wine grew softer. Longer exposure saw some of the hallmarks of ageing emerge – a more mature “nose”, better balance and greater complexity. The improvements reached their peak after 3 minutes at 600 volts per centimetre: this left the wine well balanced and harmonious, with a nose of an aged wine and, importantly, still recognisably a cabernet sauvignon.
There’s, of course, no free lunch:
Upping the voltage and applying it for longer brought new and unwanted changes, including the generation of new undesirable aldehydes. Zap it too much and the result, the panel found, was worse than the untreated original.
What’s next, cheese?