According to a California scientist, it might be possible to speed up the aging of wine with military technology. The same kind of technology used for nuclear bombs and missile launchers, may be useful for speeding the aging process of wine.
Pulsed power has been making its way into food processing, increasing how much juice can be extracted from apples and other fruit. Now it may find an unlikely-sounding application in wineries: making wine taste mature without the wait.
Even though the vast majority of what’s for sale in your local wine store is ready to be drunk within minutes of purchase, there’s no question that some wine improves with age. With time, even rough and abrasive tannins can become smooth and beautiful.
But time is expensive: stored wine takes up valuable space, and wineries are, like nearly everyone, impatient to see a faster return on their considerable investment. So scientists and are looking for ways to make that miracle of aging happen faster. Accelerated aging aims to mimic the changes that make harsh, disjointed wines easier to drink and more integrated over time, only faster: seconds or minutes instead of months or years.
Science offers speedy maturation option
The most promising technology – pulsed electric field (PEF) generators, or pulsed power – converts conventional low power into short bursts of extremely high power, equivalent to the output of a nuclear power plant for the nanoseconds it operates. PEF can kill microbes on fruit and vegetable surfaces, increase juice yields from apples and grapes and maybe make that young rough red more potable tomorrow instead of five years from now.
Dr. Dan Singleton, president of Transient Plasma Systems in El Segundo, California, thinks that PEF has a real future in the wine industry. The technology should appeal most to large wineries looking to make easy-to-drink wines at affordable prices, especially since PEF-treated grapes yield as much as 30 percent more juice: more wine from the same amount of grapes.
But Singleton says that smaller wineries are interested in the quality benefits: “I spoke with many vintners about it as we were doing experiments, and I found it very interesting that the increase in juice yield was not of much interest to many wine makers in California. They were most interested in the change in quality.”
Sippers unequivocally preferred young power-treated Pinot Noir over an untreated control in taste tests. Singleton calls the change in quality “substantial.” PEF causes changes in tannins and acidity in both red and white wines, though exactly how the accelerated aging effect works is still under investigation.
While the equipment isn’t cheap, the treated wine doesn’t need to take up expensive space in tanks or barrels in the winery and might be able to sell for more money. Still, Singleton says that cost is a major reason why wineries aren’t gobbling up the technology just yet. Co Dinn, longtime director of winemaking at Hogue Cellars and now a Washington wine industry consultant, thinks that the industry will be receptive: “Wineries are open to technology that will enhance their competitiveness and sustainability”, he says. Yet “the technology is unproven at this point.”
Giving gadgets the thumbs down
PEF will always be a winery-only tool, but gadgets for “speed-aging” wine at home abound: fancy aerators, ultrasound wands or magnets. However, oxygen reacts slowly with tannins, and an in-home aerator can’t make them react faster – sorry.
The easiest way to hasten wine aging at home is to store your wine in a warm place, because the chemical reactions that take place over time happen faster at higher temperatures. That recommendation – made by popular food scientist Harold McGee, among others – defies conventional wisdom saying that wine should be stored at a cool, steady temperature.
Nevertheless, the rationale behind both recommendations is the same. If you’re intending to lay down your wine for decades, heat is the enemy because it speeds up chemical reactions in the wine that you want to happen over a long period of time. For wine meant to be drunk within a few years at most, speeding up those chemical reactions might be a good thing.
Nonetheless, storing your wine on the top of the refrigerator won’t make it taste developed overnight. You also risk speeding up oxidation or even encouraging cooked flavors. In other words, if you’re impatient, you’re probably better off picking up a bottle of something fresh, fruity, and designed for early drinking. And, while you’re at it, stash a bottle of something dense and tannic to lay down – in a cool spot – for 2019 or so.
By Erika Szymanski