Tricks of the trade-off


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.

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  • Snooth User: Rich Tomko
    Hand of Snooth
    103444 2,868

    Sounds crazy, but given the source of this info (Nathan M) -- I have to try it! will double back to let you know what I find out

    Sep 28, 2011 at 12:35 PM

  • Snooth User: Kyle Graynor
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    455797 7,460

    I'd rather wait a few hours than clean a blender, to be honest. The loss of aromatics isn't such a loss to me, especially since I would much rather have a smoother wine than a more aromatic one. I have a feeling like this would be a great way to improve an extremely tannic wine, but for a wine that's good already, it's definitely over the top. Still . . . I'm curious.

    Sep 28, 2011 at 1:28 PM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,355

    Wine smoothies anyone? The best part of this process is not telling your guests what you're doing before you start blending the hell out of their vino. Classic.

    Sep 28, 2011 at 1:53 PM

  • Snooth User: Santiago53
    111056 10

    So Greg, I get that you don't like the idea... at all...and I usually defer to your expertise....
    but... did you actually try this? Or did you brush it off because the idea bothers you? Where's the journalism here? It sure reads as if you simply dismissed this out of hand.

    Reminds me of the good old days when snobs brushed off California wines, because everyone "knew" the only good wines were French...

    If you haven't yet done so, please try it FIRST and then, after reflection, tell us what you think. And yes, it would still be useful to see how the wine tastes at first, an hour later, and then several hours later. Howzabout if you run the experiments and THEN criticize?

    You might also try vigorously agitating the wine in a martini shaker... same effect I would think, maybe to a lesser degree, but my bet is on identical effect with a whole lot less aggravating noise.

    Oct 04, 2011 at 2:49 PM

  • Snooth User: SleazyOtto
    290020 55

    It seems that the instructions for the taste test fail, miserably, right from the start. We are asked to compare hyperdecanted (HD) wine to wine that apparently needs time in a decanter - but this tasting method isn't allowing that.
    Instead, we'd need to decant a bottle the traditional way, then - after sufficient time has passed - open another bottle and hyperdecant that. Now we're comparing the (supposedly) optimal version of each.
    And, just to complete a truly rigorous test, we should also serve some of the just-opened wine without the HD treatment, and perhaps even add a fourth variable, and pour some newly-opened wine through an aerator.
    Or, we could just plan ahead, decant far enough in advance, and enjoy the wine as we always have.

    Oct 04, 2011 at 2:56 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Santiago, I actually have tried blendering wine, though admittedly not 82 Margaux. Back when Mollydooker was introducing the Mollydooker shake (http://www.mollydookerwines.com/web...) a group of friends got the idea to take it one step further and why not throw the wines int he blender.

    This is an idea that has been around on the internet for a long time. We tried the test, nothing, shaking, and blendering for various periods of time on three wines, a Mollydooker, a cheap Chianti, and some sulfury German Riesling. The Riesling was the wine most improved by blendering but the Chianti was destroyed by the action. The Mollydooker didn't see much of a change. None of the wines really drank better after blendering, which is where I drew my inspiration for this article.

    Thanks for the comment though, I'm glad to have added to the discussion here.

    Oct 04, 2011 at 3:35 PM

  • I wonder what hyperdecanted wine would taste like if it it were run through a Slurpee machine?

    Oct 04, 2011 at 3:36 PM

  • Snooth User: Gundersen
    440480 35

    I regularly aerate airline wine by shaking the bottle vigorously after removing a small portion of the wine and replacing the screwcap - often to good effect - time not being an available luxury!!
    To add comment to your triangular tasting - you should also consider giving some (half?) of the judges two portions of the hyperdecanted wine and only one portion of regular wine.

    Oct 04, 2011 at 4:53 PM

  • Sounds absolutely crazy! Wine is a living materie - think of that when you put it in a blender!

    Oct 05, 2011 at 2:18 PM

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