Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Decanting your wine: An informal comparison of aeration- and magnetism-based decanting methods

By way of background, opening thoughts:
Today we'll not be sampling a wine, but options for "decanting" a wine, including traditional aeration versus an approach using magnets.

 Now, I'll admit to having tried putting a large powerful flat round magnet under bottles of wine some years back, having read about magnetism impact on tannins.  I did not notice a great deal of impact; and found that aerators created a more immediately apparent effect on the softness (and sometimes balance) of candidate wines.  Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the magnetism thesis.  But for the intervening years, I stuck with traditional decanting (yes, in decanters!) as well as bottle-top aerators.

Fast forward quite a few years to 2014, and I recently spotted BevWizard Co. (aka Inventive Technologies) at a West Coast wine tasting, continuing to market its "Instant Decanter Aerating Magnetic Pourer", first launched around 2006. (A similarly-designed Instant Whiskey Smoother is also part of the line-up.)   Co-owner Mac Lindsey explained to me that the key to the units are the opposing magnets lined along the flow line of the wine.  They are installed in opposition mode, meaning that they are "pushing" against each other through the wine.  The approach seemed plausible to me and I agreed to a more comprehensive test, using a retail unit supplied by the company.

For the blind test, I used a young Ojai Vineyards Red blend, a wine I recently reviewed here.  It is a modest wine - not Two-Buck Chuck, but not Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia either.  My review showed it to be big, but a bit hot in alcohol and not well-knit; in other words, a wine that you would want to put through a decanter or some aging.

With help from a capable and devoted partner in this experiment, I blind sampled four separate pourings:

1) Straight wine, no decanting

2) Wine decanted through a more traditional (non-magnetic) aerator

3) Wine decanted through Instant Decanter

4) Wine decanted through Instant Decanter, but with aeration hole plugged.

I blind tasted in a random order that I did not know in advance, and then sampled unblinded to confirm my notes.  I learned which wine represented each of the four options above AFTER I concluded my preliminary tasting notes.

The reason I set up option 4) was that, given the design of the cap, I am not convinced that the cap actually provides any oxygen aeration unless the wine bottle is held almost vertically and poured at a very high rate (which would be problematic for any wine you might decant that contained sediment).   All oxygen-based aerators I have seen create a venturi effect near the oxygen intake hole by dramatically reducing the diameter of the flowing wine.  The Instant Decanter creates an oxygen hole along a constant diameter tube (think of a soda straw with a hole poked in it).  Under the hypothesis that the Instant Decanter is not actually an "aerating" Aerating Magnetic Pourer (but is simply a "Magnetic Pourer"), I would see no difference between options 3) and 4).   Let's see what happens.

Here are my notes for the blinded tasting (I added the parenthesized notes AFTER unblinding):

(1) STRAIGHT:) Bright, red fruit. Brightness moves into your nose as bright tannins grip your cheeks.  Guessing this is almost surely non-decanted. (CORRECT.)

(2) MENU AERATOR:) Soft, fragrant. Red fruit settles fast. Guessing decanted using magnets, but can't tell if with or without aerator. (WRONG.)

(3) INSTANT DECANTER:) Soft, bright, fragrant.  Good layers of fruit. Guessing decanted using aerator. (WRONG.)

(4) INSTANT DECANTER, NO AERATION:) Soft, fragrant. Red fruit settles quickly. Guessing decanted using magnets, but can't tell if with or without aerator. (PARTIALLY CORRECT - it was without aerator.)

Unblinded, and continuing to sip the wines with a bit more air time, the differences between the three aeration/decanting samples nearly vanished - even as the straight wine gravitated towards the roundness of the other three as it took on more air.

My initial bottom line:  Magnet-based BevWizard Instant Decanter is, indeed, a viable instant decanter, with the magnets having an impact comparable to the stand-alone Menu Aerator.  Keep in mind that Instant Decanter retails at almost twice the price of Menu Aerator.  Nonetheless, Instant Decanter is an intriguing technology.  Since I could find no physical or sensory evidence that oxygen aeration is happening alongside the magnetic decanting, I find the magnetic effect impressive even on its own.

For the future, I will look to amend this posting with additional investigation with other wines, so we can properly align (haha) our perspective around magnetism-based decanting.

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