'I'm amazed': device that restores corked wine passes the taste test
By Nina Goswami http://www.telegraph.co.uk
The sommelier arrives with a 525 pounds bottle of wine and presents it with a flourish. It is a 1982 Chateau La Fleur-Petrus Pomerol Bordeaux, and expectations are high.
He tastes a sample of the decanted wine - and grimaces. Instead of a clean, fresh, fruity taste, it is dank, musty and flat. The wine has gone off - "corked" in the argot of the industry.
Previously the only solution was to pour it down the sink - but not any more. A French biochemist has invented a device that chemically "cleans up" corked wine, restoring its original bouquet.
It is estimated that as many as one in 10 bottles is contaminated with TCA - or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole - a chemical compound sometimes created when cork is washed. The contamination costs the consumer and the industry an estimated 340 million pounds a year.
Prof Gerard Michel, a biochemist from Burgundy , one of the world's top wine-making regions, claims that his invention can return foul-smelling, noxious red, white or sparkling wine to their former glory in less than an hour.
The device, called Dream Taste, will go on sale in Britain at a cost of 40 pounds, plus 3 pounds for each of the chemical treatments required for each bottle. It works by using an ionised material known as copolymer to absorb the cork-tainted molecules in the wine.
The corked wine has to be decanted into a conical plastic decanter and then the copolymer - shaped like a bunch of grapes - is immersed in the wine until the bitter taste disappears.
Once all the contaminated molecules have been withdrawn the copolymer is thrown away and the wine is ready to drink.
Prof Michel, who created the kit with Laurent Villaumea, his colleague at the Vect 'Ouer laboratory in Meursault, said that the invention was the result of more than 20 years of experience travelling the vineyards of the world studying cork taint.
It can, however, be a slow process. "A low-level taint will disappear in a few minutes but a high-level taint will take an hour or more," said Prof Michel. "To get this result we conducted thousands of tests and we used specialists trained to detect cork taint to tiny levels, as low as two nanograms of TCA per litre." The average taster can normally detect corked wine at around three to four nanograms.
To see if Dream Taste lived up to the marketing hype, The Sunday Telegraph arranged for wine connoisseurs to put it to the test at the Greenhouse, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair, London, which has the country's largest and most diverse wine list. The test was carried out on two of the six corked bottles of wine the restaurant had opened in the past week.
Before the tasting, James Payne, the Greenhouse's head sommelier, was sceptical that the wines could be improved within an hour. "The wines that we have in this selection of corked wines are all vintage so are more likely to be heavily corked, so I can't believe that they will be brought back to full standard in a short space of time."
The two wines chosen were a 1999 Domaine Pierre Damay burgundy, priced at 95 pounds, and a 1982 Chateau La Fleur-Petrus Pomerol Bordeaux, 525 pounds on the wine list.
Mr Payne said: "We have chosen these two as the burgundy is the least unpleasant on the palate so if this works we should see an improvement more quickly. The Bordeaux is very heavily corked so will put the kit to the test." The Domaine Pierre Damay was tested first. After 20 minutes Mr Payne rolled the wine and held it to his nostrils. "On the nose the taint, which gave a dank, musty aroma, has gone," he said. However, as his put the wine to his lips he grimaced. "There's a touch less bitterness on the finish in comparison to 20 minutes ago but no real improvement," he said. "Not convinced as yet."
Another 20 minutes passed and James tasted again. He looked surprised and did not speak for a few seconds. "Now if I didn't know I wouldn't reject that," he said. "The bitterness has gone. On the nose the dank, pungent smell has gone. I'm amazed. I really didn't think it would work.
"You expect a wild forest fruit character like a wild strawberry, cherry freshness, which is just under-ripe with a crisp crunchy acidity - that was masked by the musty, mouldy, dank flavours, but now those original flavours are back."
He rinsed out the Dream Taste decanter to test the Bordeaux . After an hour and a half, however, he was disappointed: " Bordeaux should have a rich Christmas cakey, stewed fruit taste to it. But this is just very bitter, like stewed tea and cold stewed tea at that. Not impressed at all at the moment. This one will need a few more hours."
Though impressed by the device, James said that it would be useless for restaurants: "We just don't have the time to be messing around with jugs and plastic grapes. However, I can see this being great for home."
Embag, the company marketing Dream Taste, said it had received more than 10,000 advance orders in France , mainly from the wine trade, and the invention has won over some of Europe 's harshest wine critics. Laure Gasparatto, from Le Figaro newspaper, said: "The experience is surprising. Little by little, the taster perceives an extraordinary evolution in the wine. Its normal characteristics reappear."
Others are more sceptical. Marianne McKay, who runs a wine production degree at the University of Brighton , offered "reserved praise".
She said: "The chemical principle is sound. Polymers have been used in separation technologies for decades. But the polymer would have to be extremely selective to remove only a single type of molecule from the wine and not some of the 'good' aroma contributors, too. Also, leaving wines for an hour before drinking can sometimes - especially for whites - mean you risk losing the freshness."
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