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The Lab

December 2016 – the ArT18 Argon Wine Preserving System

img_0894If you like a glass of good wine, but are somewhat afraid to open a really nice bottle for fear the rest will spoil before you drink it, then a wine preservation system is a must.  They come in many different styles and use different approaches.  Some are more effective than others.  So which should you use?  It depends on how long you might leave that bottle sitting, as well as how deep your pockets go.  We have used the Vacuvin stoppers and pump for years, and they can help keep a bottle of good red drinkable for four to five days easily.  The wine will change during that time, frequently for the better initially, as it opens and reveals its subtleties, so clearly there is a level of oxidation taking place when using it.  It operates on the premise of pumping out the air in the bottle, leaving as close to a vaccum as is practical.  These types of preservers are very inexpensive.  Much more effective is the Coravin, which uses a very small tube that you put right through the cork, never opening the bottle at all.  This never introduces air into the vessel, and the wine is theoretically never going to spoil.  A cartridge of pressurized argon sends gas into the bottle to push out the wine, and leaves behind an inert gas which will not interact with the remaining wine in any way.  Your bottle should remain good indefinitely.  The drawback?  The Coravin will set you back several hundred dollars.  In my opinion it is also a bit clunky.  This review, however, is about another alternative, one which promises to preserve your wine for a long time and not set you back a fortune.

The ArT18 approach also uses argon gas, an inert gas which transfers no aromas or taste to the wine.  It is heavier than air, so when you img_0896spray a small amount into the bottle it settles onto the surface of the wine and prevents contact with the damaging oxygen in the air.  You put a cork into the bottle to keep things inside still and quiet, letting that blanket of Argon keep your wine safe and secure.  Essentially this works much the same as the Coravin except you do pull the cork, and some air does get to the wine while you are pouring your glass.  For a bottle you are actually going to drink all of in the near future this makes great sense, theoretically.  But does it actually work?

img_0897We received an evaluation sample from the people at ArT18, and decided to put it to the test.  It was time for a lab experiment, and we selected two bottles to use the system on.  One was a wine we use as a house wine and drink by the case, the 2013 J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot.  We know it intimately, so any subtle changes over time would be easier to recognize.  This bottle we periodically opened, poured a small glass for tasting, and then re-applied the argon and waited some more.  The other bottle we drank about half of, then applied the product and planned to leave it alone until the very end of this experiment.  It is the 2014 Kanonkop Pinotage, a great South African wine with rich fruit flavors.   This would prove interesting.

Here is the timetable and results:

Dec 1, 2016 – we opened the 2013 Los Osos Merlot and poured a glass, then applied argon and the cork they supplied (which is really a decorative marketing piece, any cork would do).  The wine was as usual, with no defects.

Dec 2, 2016 – we opened the 2014 Kanonkop Pinotage, drank about half, and then applied argon and a cork.

Then we sampled the Los Osos several times over the ensuing 10 days.

Dec 5 – wine was as fresh as when opened.  Re-applied argon.

Dec 7 – still absolutely no discernable change in the juice.  We were impressed, but once again apply argon and re-cork the bottle.

Dec 11 – now it is eleven days past opening, and the Los Osos still tastes like we just opened it.  Enough was enough, and we opened the Pinotage as well (now ten days in bottle) to find it also seemed as good as the day we first poured it.  We were now very impressed.

Based on these results, we have no doubt we could have gone longer and still found the wine sound.  This system works.  It works exceedingly well.

How about price?  Here there is good news.  The suggested retail price is $9.99 per can, and they advertise you can get up to 130 squirtsimg_0898 per can.  That should easily handle preserving 30 to 40 bottles (assuming multiple applications), which would equate to 25 to 34 cents per bottle.  That’s not likely to break anyone’s bank who is opening up a wine worth preserving.

For full disclosure, if you do a search on wine preservation and inert gas, you’ll find other options.  Not all use argon.  Some are much more expensive.  The ArT18 product is at the low end of the price scale, and we can attest it works perfectly.  It’s easy to control and you can put only a small amount in at a time.  We don’t know if the 130 uses per can is accurate, as we haven’t made it through the entire can yet.  If it turns out to be way off we’ll report back.  Until then though, we give the ArT18 Argon system great marks, our strong recommendation, and plan to have some on hand at our house to keep the good bottles fresh.

You can see more at their website: www.ArT18Wine.com.

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August 2016 – Does Freezing Damage Wines? – Let’s See With Some Wines from Smith -Madrone

It’s early August, the temperatures are regularly surpassing 90 degrees, and it’s hot out there!  Logically we should be writing about which rosé to be drinking and refreshing, chilled summer sippers.  To me it seems like the perfect time to talk about something cold, and we have just the thing.  Actually we had three things, each a completely frozen bottle of wine sent as samples from Smith-Madrone.  Obviously, since it is August, this was not a very recent event, and actually happened in February.  Back then, on the weekend of the Boston Wine Expo, temperatures in Southeastern New England plunged below zero, and the wines unfortunately spent the weekend on the delivery truck exposed to the cold.  What we received were wine popsicles.

The box was bowed up on the top, and we quickly realized why upon opening it, as the corks were pushed halfway out of the bottle

Bursting through the packaging

Bursting through the packaging

right through the capsules and the styrofoam insert.  This was a first, and immediately the opportunity for some experimentation was clear.  I would never freeze bottles of this quality purposely (even for science!), but Mother Nature had chosen to do so.  Time to experiment!

There has been a bit published on whether freezing changes wine, and generally most of it suggests that freezing a bottle of white wine is not a bad thing.  Reds are a bit more suspect.  Cold is not an issue, but what about when they are frozen solid?  I mean top to bottom, through and through, frozen solid.  Not just for a few hours either, as these were likely this way for days.  Clearly there was only one way to find out, and that was to thaw out the ice and drink what was inside.  We set about doing so with eager anticipation.

Red wine leakage and some bits of capsule

Red wine leakage and some bits of capsule

First I wrapped each bottle top and cork in plastic to prevent any oxidation.  The red wine had clearly been compromised with regard to its seal, as there were red wine stains in the bottom of the packaging.  The whites were less clear, but it seemed better to be safe.  All the wines thawed overnight, the whites were

Trying to keep them airtight

Trying to keep them airtight

popped into the fridge (not the freezer!) and the red was left on the kitchen counter.  Anything could happen.

We’ll give you the spoiler before getting to the detailed tasting notes.  The whites were flawless, and it is hard to imagine they were changed in any meaningful way.  The red was not the same, and based on other reviews we have read there is a strong suspicion it did not survive intact.  Was that the freezing?  Did it oxidize a little?  We’re not sure.

This is also a chance to review two white wines from Smith-Madrone,  who makes wine from their estate vineyards

surrounding the winery on the top of Spring Mountain in Napa Valley.  Specific slopes are chosen with different aspects best suited to the individual varietals planted there.  Grapes grown primarily include Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon, and production is relatively modest at a total of about 4,000 cases per year.  They’ve received many accolades, including the 2014 Winery of the Year Award from TheDailyMeal.com (which you can read by clicking here).  We had one of each varietal, so let’s see what happened!

2012 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon – the Cabernet Sauvignon vines are on very steep slopes at the top of Spring Mountain.  Every year this wine is made from the same vineyards, cultivated in the same way and harvested at similar levels of IMG_0413maturity.  This way each vintage is a clear marker of what Mother Nature brought to the party, and you get to see the differences clearly without a different winemaking approach muddying the water.  This wine is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc, and was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels.  This is also the wine that clearly had experienced leakage during the freezing episode.

The wine was dark purple out of the bottle, with long legs that cascaded down the glass.  There was a big nose of currant and blackberry with some herbal notes.  A touch of menthol and leather also appeared and contributed to a complex profile.  There were tiny hints of smoke.  So far so good.  The palate brought rich fruit at first, but the wine turned just a touch bitter and this accentuated the tannins.  It was not completely smooth and did not finish perfectly clean.  This does not match other tasting notes we have read, and we suspect the wine did indeed suffer at the rough freezing treatment.  Unfortunately we don’t have an unfrozen bottle to compare it with.  The verdict here is it changed for the worse.  Please note we are not saying it was bad, as it was still a good bottle of Cabernet, but compared to other notes and the wines reputation, not to mention a killer vintage, we were expecting more.  We’ll need to get a bottle that hasn’t been frozen and compare notes.  $48

2013 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay – grown and cultivated in manner similar to the other wines, this Chardonnay highlights each IMG_0412individual growing season’s unique story.  The wine is 100% barrel fermented, and 100% aged in new French oak. You might expect the classic over the top, butter laden oak fest.  Not so.

The color is a light, golden yellow and is quite brilliant.  There is a rich nose of tropical fruit, with prominent but not over the top oak.  On the palate the wine is rich and fresh.  It is in perfect balance with a crisp acid that cleans the palate.  If you like some oak in your Chard, and you like fresh wines as well, then this is for you.  It’s really well made and delicious.  Our verdict on this is it survived intact.  I would drink this after freezing anytime.  $32

2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling – they’ve been making Riesling here for a long time.  Back in the day it was called Johannisberg IMG_0411Riesling, before they changed the name to what it truly is in 1983.  Just stainless steel here.

Light straw in color, the wine has a clean nose filled with citrus.  The palate had grapefruit, tangerine and really was just beautiful throughout.  It stayed crisp through the finish.  Some nice length here too.  This wine was delicious.  Was it affected?  We’re not sure.  While it tasted wonderful there were a lot of tartrate crystals in the bottom of the bottle, so we suspect we gave it the ultimate post-bottling cold stabilization treatment and some of the tartaric acid precipitated out of solution.  Maybe it was a little less acidic than intended.  We can tell you it was still great wine.  $27

Smith-Madrone Vineyards

Smith-Madrone Vineyards

This was a great opportunity to see what freezing does to wine.  Unfortunately it happened with three wines from a great producer we were really looking forward to evaluating.  While this was clearly excellent wine, and two were still in that category after thawing out, we suspect the unaltered products might have been even better.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to check that at some point.

For now we would say if you inadvertently freeze your white wine you’re probably going to be fine.  With the reds maybe not so much, but we don’t have enough data to be sure.  Certainly we would not recommend it!

Also, do try the wines from Smith-Madrone.  They know what they’re doing.

You can visit Smith-madrone’s website at http://smithmadrone.com/index.htm.

A votre santé!

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Initial Laboratory Findings!!!!!

August 2013 – The Aeration Challenge

CIMG1950

The Victim

We finally got around to conducting our first laboratory testing this past weekend in August.  Part of the reason was that we had been waiting to do a test of different aeration methods, but wanted to find the right wine.  Some wines change more than others, and some virtually not at all with some air time.  So to gauge whether different methods worked, and which ones might work better, we wanted to make sure the wine would cooperate.  We found that wine in The Crusher.  This wine is a chameleon, so it should prove the perfect guinea pig.  You can read about our first experience with the Crusher here.  This is not a wine we like, but it does change and that’s what this is about.

CIMG1948

Assorted torturing devices

So we had our bottle of The Crusher and gathered some glasses around the selected aeration paraphernalia.  We had a small aerator, the kind you push into the bottle and looks like a pouring spout.  One vineyard owner near us swears by this type and brings one with her when she goes to restaurants.  Next we had a Soiree, a more elaborate and larger ball-shaped aerator.  Again it gets pushed into the bottle and then you pour pretty much vertically to get the full effect.  After that we had the ever faithful decanter, used successfully many times.  Finally, there would be a night in the bottle for what we left in it, Vacuvin stoppered and pumped.

We were also armed with a bag of animal crackers for some palate cleansing.  There was now nothing left to do but open up the bottle and pour some wine, and that’s exactly what we did.

We’ll recap the notes on what the wine was like, how we thought it changed, and whether it got better or worse for each of the different cases.  We got a little creative as we worked through it, and the results are somewhat amazing.

Here it is:

 

1. Out of the Bottle: when we first tried this wine weeks ago we hated it.  We have no reason to change that determination.  There was an overpowering aroma of greasy bacon fat, and pretty much nothing else.  It is quite bad.  The palate is also overrun with that same greasy fat.  You can add some ashy wood and bitterness to it as well.  The aftertaste is very unpleasant.  This is a bad wine out of the bottle, one of the worst I’ve ever experienced.  After drinking it out of the bottle I would never, ever buy it or drink it again.  This is exactly consistent with the first bottle we opened in our earlier blog.

CIMG1953

Pouring decanter in bottle

2. Insert the pouring aerator and try again!  This was no more than two minutes after the first pour.  Both Cheri and I agreed, this was different.  The greasy bacon quality was subdued considerably.  There was a tiny bit of fruit on the palate, and the woody ash had faded.  It was now fair at best, but that was a dramatic improvement.  At this point I definitely believe the aerator did something.

CIMG1955

Soiree in bottle

3. Enter: the SOIREE: so we poured some through the Soiree aerator, and the wine seems to have improved a little more.  There are some herbal notes.  The bacon fat is a little more subdued.  This is not dramatically different than the first change, so are we convincing ourselves it is really all that different?  Not sure, but I think the Soiree did a little more than the standard pouring aerator.

4. Decanter: we let some go from bottle to decanter and then sit for an hour.  This was not good for the wine, as the bacon fat was heavy and there was a smokey quality that didn’t help.  It seems to be worse than the other aerators, but is that because it got better and then faded again?  Not really sure how we tell.  So, since we were somewhat baffled we switched plans a bit.  Cheri grabbed the decanter and swirled it around for about 30 seconds, and did so rather vigorously.  What happened?

4.5 Swirling vigorously!: this is crazy, but all of a sudden the aromas of cherry lifesaver come screaming out of the glass, when before there was never any fruit at all.  We are now completely baffled.  Unfortunately the cherry didn’t carry over to the palate, but the change on the nose of this wine was crazy.  It was startling.  Still it’s a pretty bad wine, but the cherry lifesaver appearance was cool.

4.75 Wait another half hour:  we left some in the glass and waited another half hour.  The cherry lifesaver faded to nothing and the bacon fat was back.  It was like the swirling shook something free that otherwise is never going to see the light of day.

5. Next Day: we left it overnight with the cork in the bottle.  Initially intending to pump this we changed our minds to just corking it in order to give it the best chance of coming around.  The Crusher was having none of that, nothing got better here, and the wine is just what it is: bad wine.  There will be no miraculous butterfly emerging from this caterpillar, but the wine had served its purpose.  It had certainly changed in many ways though the various manipulations.  Thus we proved these gadgets are doing something, but we can’t tell you for sure what or why.  If you want a more detailed explanation of what is really going on during aeration I suggest you consult the folks at The Academic Wino.  They’re the scientists in this crowd.

So what have we learned: that wine changes and that aeration can certainly stimulate that.  Now the $64,000

The Results!

The Results!

question: which wines does it help and which ones does it not?  I don’t know that until I try the wine and let it air.  Many, many wines without question get better with some air.  I have had wines with bad, corky overtones clear up and become excellent.  Older wines can be trickier, as the aeration can change the wine quickly.  Timing is everything!

So experiment a little and see what happens.  Do not buy the 2011 The Crusher under any circumstances, that is unless your curiosity gets the better of you.

Until the next time we put on our lab coats, a votre sante!