Thursday, August 27, 2015

EPHEMERA: Let Your Gizmos Go!

One of the questions I’m asked frequently is, “Do aerators work?” The answer is no, they’re a fraud, a simple trick, but, like placebos, if you believe they work, they work. But that’s not what’s on my mind, really.

Why do so many people who love wine feel the need to try and improve the wines they’ve purchased? Where’s the joy in that? Where’s the sense? You have to serve it in the proper stem or you’re missing something. You need to aerate it using Bernouli’s principle to release all that the wine has to offer. Bernouli’s principle, really?—don’t you know a con when you hear one? Maybe use magnets to change the tannins. Hell, my refrigerator is already covered in magnets—no wonder my white wines aren’t tannic! Or stick a weird piece of metal in the wine, stir it around, rub your neighbor’s nuts, pet your cat against its fur to put a static charge in your fingers, and then your Pet Nat will taste less funky. Or pump the air out of what’s left in the bottle so that it’s fresher the next day, and makes that satisfying queef when you open it. Or spray argon in it—it’s your baby, it needs a blanket overnight.

When did wine become so fragile, so needy? It’s part of the culture of worshiping wine, which wine in no way deserves, to see it as something almost ethereal, an entity always near death, the Blanche DuBois of alcoholic beverages. In the summer months, customers would often bring wines back into the wine shop that had leaked a bit from being left in their cars. They’d want me to replace those bottles. “So,” I’d say, “let me guess. You bought the wine first, then went to the grocery store to buy dinner, and you left the wine in your car when it’s 97 degrees outside. For an hour. And that’s my fault? If you did that to your kid, would you ask the hospital for a refund?” Besides, I’d go on to say, the wine will be fine. It’s not that fragile. It leaked because it’s mostly water, and water, we all remember from junior high school science class, expands as it heats. Take it home, cool it off in the fridge, then drink it with dinner as you’d planned to. It will be fine. And it always is.

There’s something sad about all of this that I can’t put my finger on. I’m a failure because I didn’t drink my Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir from a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass. It would be better for the wine if I could—it’s tasting delicious, but how much better could it be if I only had the right glass? Or I forgot, and I didn’t decant it early enough, but at least I have a Vinturi to make it all better. All of these gadgets, all of them useless from a scientific point of view, but all of them aimed at making us feel more sensitive than the next guy, with a more evolved sense of smell, a better palate, a better and more savvy kind of wine connoisseur. But all of these gizmos simply prey upon our insecurities, our fear that we just don’t really “get” wine. We want so badly to be thought of as a wine expert by our friends, we pursue equally intellectually dishonest initials after our names—WSET, CSW, HMW (which one is fictional—kinda hard to tell, right?). We “educate” our less knowledgeable friends when they come to dinner with our glassware and our aerators and our vacuum seals. Yeah, there’s a lot sad there.

Wine, like all of the best things in life, is a simple pleasure. And you do it honor by treating it simply. Open it, enjoy it, share it, listen to everything it has to say. You don’t need to fuck with it. Humans are not really that good at smell and taste, those are our worst senses, except for common. Accept that with the appropriate humility, and move on. Stop pretending you can tell the difference after a wine is aerated, after it’s had a magnet stuck in it. Even if you can tell the difference, it doesn’t matter (and whatever difference you can sense is trivial, though more likely imaginary). Wine will change constantly whether you screw with it or not. Give it the room to go where it wants to go without you diddling it. Start drinking your wines humbly and joyfully. Let go of your neediness. You don’t need the expensive glasses. Any nice glass will do. Find a favorite one and drink all of your wines from it. Throw away your aerator, stop sticking it on the top of your beautiful wine so your bottle looks like a refugee from the Folies Bergere. Opening and drinking a bottle of wine isn’t major surgery. All those tools are getting in the way of your enjoyment, not enhancing it. Plus, you look like a jackass fussing over a bottle of wine like that.

I’ve come to a place where I use one glass all the time for every wine I drink—red, white, sparkling, rosé. My wife loves a stemless glass. We open a bottle of wine, we talk about it, we often disagree as to its quality, but we enjoy its company. If we don’t finish it, we put the cork in it and stash it somewhere until the next evening. Expensive or not, pedigreed or not, Grand Cru or plonk, each bottle gets the same treatment. It’s dinner company. We welcome it, we listen to it, we don’t screw with it. Simple.


Carl LaFong said...

Just like the dog toy in the shape of a fire hydrant, we are sold goofy stuff because we can be conned. The dog goes along with the joke just for fun.
I don't want a catalytic converter on my car, much less stuck in my wine glass to "taste how it would be with some age on it". No tannin twaddlers for me.

Just like the aluminized weight loss jogging suits from the 80's, people want to get more faster and cheaper. I used to get a laugh at folks running in the summer heat in D.C. wearing a human basting bag.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

"Catalytic converter" is perfect! Too many foolish wine gizmos on the market, and virtually all of them utterly useless in helping to understand and enjoy wine. Harmless, but a waste of money, and something of a tell that the person touting them doesn't know that much about wine. Oh well...

Don Clemens said...

This post nails it! I love wine, but it has become excruciatingly clear that there are WAY too many ways to mess with it. A couple of years ago, on vacation, I realized that I had not packed any wine glasses. I do prefer stemware (I'm an aesthete, I guess...), so I stopped at the local Walmart (hate that part of the story) and picked up a dozen wine glasses for $9.99. Long story short, I now do the same thing every year when we go to the same vacation spot, in order to replace those glasses that have broken on the way. They work just fine. SB, CS, Syrah, Prosecco or anything else tastes just fine. NOBODY complains...

Marcia Macomber said...

My favorite phrase: "the Blanche DuBois of alcoholic beverages." Ha! So frail. So incapable of taking care of herself. She could use some aerating!

Bob Henry said...

As a counterpoint to the Bill [De-]Nye, anti-science guys of the world . . .

Excerpts from the Los Angeles Times “Food” Section
(May 6, 2009, Page E1ff):

“Call It Aroma Therapy for Wine”


By W. Blake Gray
Special to The Times

"The word 'closed' does not have a physical meaning for [wine] sensory testing," says Andrew Waterhouse, chairman of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis.

Further, Waterhouse says the implication that a "closed" wine is missing something is a misdiagnosis. In fact, rather than withholding scents, the wine is actually giving you something extra: sulfur compounds that are potent enough even in tiny amounts to cover up the fresh fruit aromas you want to smell.

Sulfur occurs naturally in both grapes and the yeasts that turn grapes into wine. Sulfur forms more than 100 compounds called mercaptans. These sulfuric compounds form differently and unpredictably in every bottle of wine.

When exposed to air, they eventually re-form into something less annoying, but they need a few minutes to do so. We call it "breathing," but it's really a seething sea of recombining elements.

"I think of wine as a tier of about 100 different compounds that are either taking on oxygen or passing it on to something else," says Kenneth Fugelsang, associate professor of enology at Cal State Fresno. "When that process is finished, the wine is ready to drink."

Even if you don't smell rotting cabbage, asparagus or burnt rubber -- some of mercaptan's more noxious calling cards -- sulfur compounds are still what keep you from fully enjoying wine right away.

"These reductive compounds are excellent masking agents," Fugelsang says. "They can hide the positive characteristics of any wine."

Bob Henry said...

If you swirl your glass sufficiently long, your wine won't need an aerator.

From The Wall Street Journal
(April 27, 1998, Section and Page Unknown):

“Breakthrough! Pulmonary Doctor Discovers Key to Wine Breathing”


By Ron Winslow
Staff Reporter

Ziggy said...

Hose, you left out the fact that by using all those gizmos you probably reduced the nutritional numbers too:

Grapes, red or green
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 288 kJ (69 kcal)
18.1 g
Sugars 15.48 g
Dietary fiber 0.9 g
0.16 g
0.72 g
Thiamine (B1) (6%) 0.069 mg
Riboflavin (B2) (6%) 0.07 mg
Niacin (B3) (1%) 0.188 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
(1%) 0.05 mg
Vitamin B6 (7%) 0.086 mg
Folate (B9) (1%) 2 μg
Choline (1%) 5.6 mg
Vitamin C (4%) 3.2 mg
Vitamin E (1%) 0.19 mg
Vitamin K (14%) 14.6 μg
Trace minerals
Calcium (1%) 10 mg
Iron (3%) 0.36 mg
Magnesium (2%) 7 mg
Manganese (3%) 0.071 mg
Phosphorus (3%) 20 mg
Potassium (4%) 191 mg
Sodium (0%) 2 mg
Zinc (1%) 0.07 mg
Other constituents
Fluoride 7.8 µg

I think I'll just start drinking straight from the bottle.

Bob Henry said...


As I'm reading your comment, I'm hearing Tom Lehrer's earworm "The Elements" in my head.

~~ Bob

Dave Miner said...

Oh Captain, mercaptan!

susan wu said...

Mmmm, this blog is customarily rated "R", but occasionally you come across a piece that could subversively fall into "G" category if there were no appearance of the "F-bomb". A far cry from your stereotype HoseMaster. But I'm needy now, not the wine. I need HoseMaster to aerate this blog and keep it ethereal.

Bob Henry said...

C'mon Hoser.

Satisfy Susan's request: drop the bomb.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

A great glass won't help an average wine, and an average glass won't kill a great wine. I love beautiful stemware, but there's a point where it's just jerking off. Fussing over glassware is about the host, and not the wine. That's what leaves a foul taste in my mouth. Thanks for chiming in!

Marcia Love,
Too many people treat their wines like they're fragile, or shy, or misunderstood--until they free them, or help them, with gimmicks and gizmos. As I said, I find it sad. Not wrong, not evil, not even stupid, but very sad.

Yes, so an aerator simply eliminates the sulfur compounds a bit quicker. Opening it early, swirling it for a bit, and being patient gives the same result. Oxygen interacts with wine very slowly. You can blow off that free sulfur fairly quickly, but the actual effects of "breathing," the slow interaction of oxygen with the wine that makes it more interesting after an hour or two, can't be hastened with gizmos. Not magnets or blenders or aerators or fart bubbles. It's chemistry. The gizmos are mostly shams that prey on the insecurities of wine folks.

I don't care what people spend their money on, just don't pretend your glass or your toy is actually doing things it ain't.

"Start" drinking straight from the bottle? OK. I'll play along.

Though I think worrying about the nutrition in wine is a bit like analyzing the nutritional value of semen. Kind of not the point, even straight from the...never mind.

Wow, a Whitman reference! Nice. Or was it a skunk reference? Either way, it works.

Susan Darling,
Oh, when I write Ephemera, it's more me than the HoseMaster. Much less foul language, though offensive in other ways.

I ran the piece through an F-Bomb filter for better taste. Hypocrite.

Bob Henry said...

Hey, you're a baseball guy.

Talk about booting a routine ground ball to first bsse à la Bill Buckner.

Hell sweetheart, get me rewrite!

"I ran the piece through a 'fuck' filter for better taste. Hypocrite."

(Susan's now satisfied, and the world is once again safe for democracy . . .)

Alden Skinner said...

Eyrie uses the Stölzle Bordeaux stem for everything. Trust me, I can walk there in ten minutes.

Joseph Comfort said...

Love it HM!!! Thank you for all the assertiveness lessons. My cake was taken last month when a wine rep said of an pricey Riesling that had no discernible nose, "it's still keeping its secretes from us". My reply was "maybe it just sucks." May God bless you with his noodly appendages.

gabriel jagle said...

Ron, sometimes you understand wine better than any wine writer I know.

I have 2 Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses. I got them both for a dollar at the Goodwill, they're the size of clown shoes, and they sit on the top shelf collecting dust. I have 6 regular wine glasses, which I use if they're clean or if I have a really nice wine. Otherwise, we drink our wine out of Mason Jars, and it tastes fantastic.