I f time is money, how much is five years worth, or ten, or twenty? How much would a wine lover pay to be able to age young wines without the tedium of waiting for the years to slowly pass?
Suppose you could open a bottle of immature harsh tannic cabernet sauvignon half an hour before dinner and by the time you sit down to eat the wine has aged into a soft fruity wine, tasting as if it had been matured in perfect conditions for a decade.
That’s the promise offered by the makers of a device called 'The Perfect Sommelier'. They say it
"improves virtually any wine in less than 30 minutes. It will bring out the maturity and subtlety that the vineyard intended. Replace the cork with the Sommeliers' top and place the bottle of wine on the stand. In 30 minutes a remarkable change occurs due to the strong magnetic field created by The Perfect Sommelier."
"All wines will age and exhibit the same ageing effect as in being "cellared" for years, with red wines showing the most effect; due to the higher tannin levels."
"The 'ageing' will make the wine less aggressive and more palatable with better nose, bouquet and roundness without changing the unique association with its vintage. Wines, due to their varied characteristics, will show from a subtle to a remarkable change, greatly enhancing the elegance and hence the enjoyment."
The Perfect Sommelier consists of two units containing magnets; a heavy thick circular base, like a wine coaster, on which the opened wine bottle is placed, and a top that sits in the opened neck of the bottle.
Can wine be aged by placing it in a magnetic field? Master of Wine Julian Brind thinks so. When he was Head of Wine, Spirits and Beer Buying for Britain’s premier supermarket chain Waitrose he called it miraculous and said "we have tested it on many different styles of wine in our sample room and found it alters the taste, making wines appear softer and more advanced." Anthony Dias Blue, wine and spirits editor of the US Bon Appétit magazine said " The sceptic is convinced.....Don’t ask me how it works, but it works!"
Well, how does it work? Douglas Dubin, from The Perfect Sommelier, explains:
"According to modern physics when you create a "True Magnetic Field" as we have within the confines of the Base and Top Magnets, a natural phenomenon a Flux Path is created. Within the Flux Path the Electrically Charged Molecules move imperceptibly along the path creating a bond and allowing the tannic molecules to lengthen as they would naturally when the bottle is laid down in a cellar or cave for 4-10 years. When tannins are big and aggressive they mask the fruit, by smoothing or maturing the tannins they move away from the fruit which allows the fruit to open up.
Finally all the rest of the molecules that have come out of alignment move back into alignment and rebalance allowing the bouquet to open up. You wind up with a wine that is less acidic, fruitier and has a bigger nose.”
But I couldn't find any indication that the device had been tested in controlled conditions so I was pleased to be invited to a tasting designed to prove the effect of the device, hosted by Eric Feron, manager of WineSoft and moderator of the www.letstalkwine.com wine discussion board.
On a freezing December night 2002 we assembled in central London. There were six tasters drawn from wine writers, importers and sellers. Eric's support team managed the opening of the wine and its placing in the Perfect Sommelier, under the supervision of an independent scientist.
Eric started by explaining the procedure to be used. Each wine would be opened and half decanted into an empty clean Champagne bottle. One of the samples would be placed in the device. We would taste wine from each pair, mark it out of 100 and discuss it.
We waited thirty minutes, separate from the team processing the wines, then took our places as the first pair of bottles was passed around. The first wine was white - which was a surprise to me as had only considered the device in the context of red wines. But, as the packaging said it "improves virtually any wine." There was no colour difference between the two glasses, but first glass had a crisp nose, and body whereas the second seemed slightly less intense. No conclusive difference.
The second wine was red, and again it seemed the first glass tasted was slightly better.
The third wine showed a marked and distinctive difference between the glasses. One was a young looking red, the other was almost orange. And they tasted like they looked, one young and vibrant, the other fading and past it.
"The Sommelier seems to have worked too well on this," I said, "Assuming the second glass was the one in the device, I suggest it gets only 15 minutes next time." There was absolutely no doubt these two samples were different; one was definitely aged, the other wasn't.
But the rest of the wines seemed identical. Sometimes it seemed the second glass of a pair was slightly softer after tasting the first, but on going back to the first it was obvious there was no difference.
We discussed the wines at first, but halfway through we stopped discussions. This was to exclude the possibility that discussion was influencing tasters.
At the end Eric revealed the wines. As a control, he said, not all the pairs of wines comprised one treated and one untreated. Sometimes we tasted two identical samples where both or neither of the wines had been treated. And one time we compared two wines of different vintages. This was the third wine tasted, the only one where everyone noted a complete difference, Pinot Noir Les Caves du Petit Versailles, one sample,from the 2000 vintage the other from the 1994 vintage.
On none of the samples could anyone identify which had been treated in the Perfect Sommelier device. We could detect no difference at all and the conclusion is the Perfect Sommelier makes no discernable alteration to wine.
Organiser Eric Feron pointed out, with hindsight, that decanting one of each pair of samples into an empty Champagne bottles could have influenced results, both through the aerating action of decanting and because Champagne bottles have a thicker base than ordinary bottles. Additionally the Champagne bottles may not have been at exactly the same temperature as the wine bottles.
However these are minor quibbles: a device for which extravagant claims are made and which, at £60, costs as much as a case of wine, should have made a difference significant enough to be identified by our panel of expert tasters.
Conclusion:- save your money.
Eric Feron and his team of hardworking assistants.
Douglas Dubin of The Perfect Sommelier for loaning the devices
WineSoft – www.winesoft.co.uk
Lets Talk Wine – www.letstalkwine.com
Perfect Sommelier – www.perfectsommelier.com