Earlier this year, Nathan Myhrvold's guide to molecular gastronomy "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking" was released with much fanfare. Of course, if you're going to release a $625 6-volume set about esoteric cooking techniques in a down economy, you better push that fanfare button, and hard.
While much of the book will be rarely used or seen by most people, there are some tidbits that just about anybody can use. Businessweek is reporting on Myhrvold's technique for "hyperdecanting" i.e., decanting wine in a blender.
On Businessweek, Myhrvold shares his views on the technique and how you can test it yourself.
"Although torturing an expensive wine in this way may cause sensitive oenophiles to avert their eyes, it almost invariably improves red wines," he says.
While this may in fact be true, it tends to look simply at the technical aspects of a very untechnical process. Doubtful of how well this technique would work? Myhrvold suggests using a specific blind taste test. To avoid bias he tells use to use a "triangle test," a "scientifically rigorous way to test for a perceptible difference between wine prepared two different ways."
Here are Myhrvold's instructions:
"Get as many judges as you can—10 is the minimum to get good statistics. Give each judge three identical glasses, and label the glasses X, Y, and Z. Hyperdecant half a bottle of wine, and save the other half of the bottle to use for comparison. Out of view of the judges, pour an ounce or so of wine into each glass. The undecanted wine should go into two of the glasses, the hyperdecanted wine into the third, or vice versa. Vary the order of presentation among the judges so that not all are tasting the hyperdecanted wine first or last. Record which wine goes into which glass, and have the judges guess which two of their wines are the same."
While all this is good and fine, and may even lead one to prefer a taste of the so-called hyperdecanted wine, it frankly falls flat in the long run. Tests like this are indeed "scientifically rigorous ways" to determine, with consistency, what sort of a wine you prefer, but no one actually drinks wines like this.
In fact, if you are talking about wines like 1982 Margaux, speed is so obviously not of the essence that one has to wonder why someone would even suggest mistreating the wine in this way. After waiting some 28 years for the wine to mature, now we need it to hurry up and change?
And what of that change? Hyperdecanting, which I'd refer to as hyper-oxygenation, is not really anything like decanting. In traditional decanting, wines are allowed to undergo a slow absorption of oxygen, which in turn fuels a series of reactions that allow for a myriad of chemical compounds to be released. Thus, the aroma of the wine is formed.
With hyperdecanting, a giant rush of oxygen engulfs the wine. The kinetic energy of whirring blades adds fuel to the reaction process, causing the release of individual complex aromatic compounds to overlap one another. This yields wines with intense but short lived aromas. The only true win here comes at the expense of the aromatic complexity of the wine, since the oxygen and kinetic energy added by the blender do help to soften the tannins that are usually taken care of over the course of hours during traditional decanting.
This softening is what appeals to people, it makes the wine better to taste. Regardless, any truly rigorous examination of hyperdecanting should be undertaken over the course of hours and most likely with food. This sort of "real world trial" would reveal whether hyperdecanting is useful, or simply another waste of gullible folks' time and wine.
So what's the hurry? Have you not had great wines that just took time to reveal themselves? That wait, in fact, characterizes some of my greatest wine experiences.
Hyperdecanting, or whatever you want to call it, is akin to quick drying paint, drive-through fast food and a myriad of other 'solutions' to problems that really didn't exist until some marketing genius explained how they'd troubled us all along.
If you don't have time to enjoy a wine that needs decanting, select a wine more appropriate for your occasion. Slow down. Wine, after all, is supposed to be enjoyed in sips, not in big gulps of frothy, best-I-can afford indulgence with a chaser of entitlement.