Wine Preservation Systems

The Wandering Palate Finds A Watershed Development
For Wine Consumers

Written by Curtis Marsh   
Friday, 27 August 2010
Through 6,500 years of winemaking, keeping opened wine from deteriorating has been a problem. Ironically the solution was always right under our noses, in the form of an inert gas called argon.

Although restaurants and bars have installed expensive argon dispensers to save wine, there has been no way to do it at home. Finally an innovative Australian company called winesave has come up with a way to dispense food-grade jolts of the gas in an effective and affordable canister.

Wine's main enemy has always been exposure to oxygen and subsequently spoilage, which winemakers have fought from the ancient Romans' discovery of sulphur dioxide as a crucial anti-oxidant to the growing acceptance today of the screwtop over the cork.

The amphora used by the ancient Greeks and Romans revolutionized wine's storage and transportation, superseding wooden or skin containers and facilitating wine trading, along with olives, olive oil and grains. The amphora prevailed for millennia until the wine barrel transformed storage and shipment at a time when global civilization was fast-evolving.

The first dedicated glass wine bottle appeared in the 1630s, facilitating extended ageing at the same time greatly reducing oxidization and its dark color protecting wine from harmful light. By 1660 the attributes of cork in its impermeability and compressibility were understood and, with English technical innovation in glass manufacturing, more tapered bottles developed that could be laid on their side, keeping the cork moist and relatively airtight.

Even the once indispensible cork is now superseded if not obsolete with the fast-growing acceptance of the screwtop. And as the very nature of wine is less intimidating today, and with growing familiarity amongst the populace, a glass of wine is increasingly becoming a part of everyday life around the world.

As any wine marketer will acknowledge, wine consumers are at their most inquisitive and adventurous in a restaurant environment or wine bar and willing to try something new, most likely served by the glass. Indeed, serving wine by the glass or even tasting portions is universally transforming wine service and consumption patterns, giving the consumer a greater choice of wines to discover and promoting the pairing of wines to specific dishes and enhancing the homogeneous synergies of enjoying wine with food.

Imagine if you could take this same approach at home and depending on your mood or what you were eating, you could choose from a range of wines by the glass. Or even the very notion that you could open a bottle wine at any time and not feel compelled to drink it all.

Obviously this would normally pose a problem with the opened bottles going off, given exposure to oxygen as wine's main enemy. This is where restaurants, wine bars and hotels have had the distinct advantage over the home consumer in rationalizing thousands of dollars for commercial wine preservation systems such as the high-tech Enomatic (www.enomatic.co.nz) which utilizes argon, which being colorless, odorless and flavorless, protects the wine's essential qualities for more than three weeks.

That said, many restaurants and wine bars struggle to justify the expense of installing commercial preservation systems, and in reality is there is a lot of poorly kept, substandard wine being served by the glass.

However, winesave (www.winesave.com), has figured out how to dispense argon cheaply in a canister. Although there may be some consumer skepticism with the very mention of gas, argon has been used in wineries and food production for many years. It comes from the very air we breathe and has always existed in the earth's atmosphere.

Argon makes up 1 percent of the air that surrounds our planet, nitrogen 78 percent, oxygen 21 percent and the balance carbon dioxide, hydrogen, neon, helium, methane, krypton, xenon and ozone, with the argon obtained via liquefaction of gases and fractional distillation. Thus it is a natural product and environmentally friendly, with a recyclable can and the argon returning to the atmosphere, where it came from.

Argon's most exceptional quality is it combines with nothing -- an atom that is totally resistant to bonding with other elements. Being two and half times heavier than air, it simply falls down, displacing the oxygen in the bottle and forming an impenetrable layer between the wine and air.

A one-second squirt inside the opened bottle of wine, with the bottle kept upright and relatively cool, will preserve wine for weeks, indeed months.

I have tested winesave for several months on a wide range of grape varieties, styles and bottle age; from young and relatively fragile aromatic white wines to completely mature vintages of red wines, even a 1977 vintage port. Not one wine showed any sign of deterioration. Even after opening and resealing several times, all kept perfectly for more than two months, with some improved.

A multitude of devices to preserve wine have been touted over the years, with limited success. The most commercially popular alternative to displacing oxygen without using an inert gas has been inducing a vacuum or extracting the air by a hand pump pioneered by Vacu Vin (www.vacuvin.com). At its inception in 1986, it was considered revolutionary and is now said to be used in 30 million households in more than 75 countries throughout the world.

The industry consensus, however, is that such hand pump-operated systems do not accurately measure the vacuum pressure and are arguably detrimental to the point of stripping the wine of aroma and flavor, and certainly questionable in a commercial application.

Another new Australian innovation (seems to be an obsession down-under) called Wine Shield (www.winepreserva.com) is a plastic disc inserted in the bottle that floats on the surface creating a barrier between the wine and the air space, claiming to “significantly slow oxidation” and “keeping wine fresh for up to five days.” At face value, an affordable and practical application although conjectural and clearly has its limitations.

Appreciating that there is palpable consumer disconnect with wine technology - the simplicity, affordability, the natural qualities of argon and winesave technology are hard to ignore, and is a watershed development that should be a boon for wine consumption at home, and anywhere wine is served – by the glass.

Winesave suggests their canister has 50 applications, which I found to be a conservative estimate – I managed another 30 or so myself. A canister retails for A$28 in Australia and $35 in Singapore.

For more information, trade or consumer enquiries, email: info@vinotech.com.au

Curtis Marsh is an independent Asia-based wine and food writer. His commentaries are published in www.thewanderingpalate.com Marsh's theorem: "Life is filling in time between meals... and a meal without wine could only be breakfast!"