Like Botox for Wine

Paul Blow

The steady stream of kitchen gadgets entering the market has made cooking easier, cleaner, and more efficient; it’s also made cupboards more cluttered with tools that peel, froth, emulsify, and grate. The gadget hawkers are now offering us a plethora of tools that claim to enhance wine, softening it for drinking by oxidizing it, either with good old oxygen or with metal alloys that react with the sulfur in wine.

The Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator is simply a conduit that mixes wine with air as you pour the wine into a glass. You can buy one for white wine and another for red, though there shouldn’t be any difference—are they going to market separate aerators for rosé and champagne next? I love the website’s claim that “there’s a lot of engineering in there,” which is followed by an algebraic equation. The fact is that this thingamajig can help a wine by doing for you (and perhaps more thoroughly) what you do when you swirl your glass: It blends in some air to excite the molecules and blow off some of the sulfur compounds that both come naturally and are added by the winemaker to preserve the wine. I’m happy to just keep swirling. And a caution for using the Vinturi on older wines: For more delicate, mature bottles, air is the enemy. You could kill the wine.

Philip Stein’s Wine Wand takes a fairy-tale concept—the wand—and gives it scientific cred and a steep price range of $325 to $525. It is intended “to accelerate the aerating process of wine by replicating the natural frequencies of air and oxygen, and infusing them into the wine.” It’s a glass tube with holes in one end and some little pieces of glass or crystal that live at the bottom. The idea is to stir your wine briefly with the wand and the wine magically/scientifically becomes ready to drink, skipping that annoying breathing process. I’ve seen the wand in action, and it does seem to have a slightly oxidative effect. But many wines don’t need this. Again, I’m going to stick with swirling.

At $70, the Clef du Vin also isn’t cheap, but it makes the even grander claim that it will age the wine by one year for every second it’s in contact with the wine. Your choice: 1 year, 20 years, 100 years! It’s a flat, metal, comma-shaped tool with a disk that flips out like the blade of a pocketknife. At the end of the disk are a combination of “alloys” that are meant to replace your 55-degree wine cellar for aging wine.

Again, in demonstration, the Clef du Vin obviously interacts with wine, but not entirely in a good way. After leaving it for 20 seconds in a glass of 2002 Château La Lagune, a Bordeaux, the wine tasted like it had had a layer stripped from it, and had none of the complexity and silkiness that 20 years in a dark cellar would provide. It tasted like a lesser young wine, not a glorious 1982. Over time, wines grow in complexity as various compounds join, separate, or evolve. The Clef du Vin provides none of that, and it seems completely disingenuous to suggest that it can prematurely “age” wine.

As Harold McGee discusses in a column about some of the same products, it’s well known that certain metals interact with wine. It’s an old winemaker’s trick to throw a copper penny into a wine that has developed stinky hydrogen sulfide compounds through careless fermentation practices. I’ve known people who carry old pennies around just for this purpose (don’t use today’s pennies because they’re mainly zinc; the production of copper pennies ended in 1982).

As with so much in the kitchen, there’s really no substitute for time. Give me brewed coffee over instant, and laboriously stirred steel-cut oats over one-minute oatmeal. For me, one of the greatest pleasures of wine is its simplicity. All you need is a bottle, a corkscrew (like my trusty Pulltap’s), and a glass. This has been the case for hundreds of years, and I expect it will continue to be.

Jordan Mackay is a San Francisco–based wine and spirits specialist whose work has appeared in publications such as Gourmet, the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, and Decanter. Follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW too, and become a fan on Facebook.