Friday, October 3, 2008

Aging Wine with Ultrasonic Waves

Here is an interesting story from The Telegraph about a machine that vibrates bottles of wine (or any alcoholic beverage) for 30 minutes supposedly making them taste as if they have been aged for years or decades.

What is the "science" behind this amazing invention you ask, "Inventor Casey Jones says the £350 gadget uses ultrasound technology to recreate the effects of decades of ageing by colliding alcohol molecules inside the bottle." It goes onto discuss the effects, "The look and bouquet of the drink is improved and because of the chemical changes, the alcohol is easier to absorb by the kidneys and therefore, hangovers are virtually eliminated."

First off since when does the kidney absorb alcohol? The liver absorbs and processes alcohol in the blood stream. Generally this sort of off-kilter claim is a red flag that something is going on.

Their explanation just doesn't hold water, what in the world would alcohol molecules bumping into each other accomplish? Ethanol is ethanol, you aren't going to change that with 30 minutes of vibration. They might be talking about higher (fusel) alcohols, as far as I am aware they can mellow slightly through oxidation and esterification, but if you ferment something too warm or fail to cut off the heads and tails of a distilled spirit correctly these headache inducing compounds will always be present.

The article states that it would work on whiskey as well, but as the old joke goes: What do you get when you age a bottle of 20 year old of whiskey for 10 years? A dusty bottle of 20 year old whiskey. It is the oak and the oxygen that enhance the flavors of something aged in a barrel, not just time.

Even if it could make a bottle of wine taste 10 years older, most cheap wine doesn't turn into a great wine with a couple years of age. Great aged wine (or beer) is very good when fresh, but improves with age. No amount of age will fix a poorly made alcoholic beverage.

It disappoints me that this sort of junk can make its way into a reputable newspaper. When did a paper doing a story on a product become free advertising with no critical thinking or research into it?

5 comments:

William Nordmann said...

A perfect example of how little most people know about wine and alcohol in general.

Sam said...

I saw that article too and laughed at the sucker who buys this to age Yellow Tail. There is research that clearly supports sonification’s (if used appropriately) positive effect on reaction rates and enzymes (http://www.kirj.ee/public/Chem/2007/issue_4/chem-2007-4-5.pdf, http://www.idosi.org/wasj/wasj3(1)/17.pdf ) so in theory I can buy that sonification could increase oxidative reactions in wine or beer and thus the perceived “age”. Of course this would be limited by the amount of package oxygen and other free radicals present, as the ingress rate of oxygen through the cork probably wouldn’t be sufficient to maintain the rate of reaction, and if you age a wine for twenty plus years, a lot of oxygen gets in there. Perhaps a combination of micro-oxygenation and sonification would help mellow some high tannin and/or oaky wines so that they’re at “age” earlier as some of the “best” wines for aging tend to be rough when young. Like you said, aging a bad wine doesn’t make it taste better and most modern wines are not meant to be aged, they just don’t have the character for it.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Very interesting. I have heard that Russian River plays music in their barrel room, I wonder if the low level of vibrations from music over a year helps their beer to age better/faster.

Jon Webster said...

I recall tasting a beer called OM from Cambridge brewing at the Extreme Beer Fest last Feb. Definitely a little more on the fringe than just playing music in the barrel room, but the beer was damn tasty. I thought it had a very melded, integrated, "harmonious" feel, but that could have been all in my head after reading the description.

"This beer represents a new venture into the world of beer and mystical experience. Contemporary theories of sound therapy are incorporated into a process which aligns this Belgian-style golden ale to the specific frequency that is expressed in meditation circles by the mantra "OM.” While resting in French oak chardonnay barrels for six months, the barrels and their contents were vibrated using therapeutic tuning forks and Tibetan chanting bowls at a frequency of 136.10 Hz @ 432.10 Hz. Studies have shown that vibration affects the crystalline structure of liquids and that water has the ability to 'memorize' frequency information and hold sound at nearly five times the magnitude of air. From Plato to Pythagoras to Kepler scholars have experimented with ways in which we define the sound of the universe and how it is relative to our own existence. Our process created an optimal environment, also, for the naturally residing microflora in the oak, bringing into the beer subtle expressions of Brettanomyces which complement the beer’s dry but malty palate with flavors and aromas of pineapple and peach fruit. OM expresses a truly harmonious balance of honeyed malt and hop, yeast and flora, and oak character, with a final stated goal of assisting humanity in its quest towards inner bliss, equanimity, and world harmony. Oh, and it’s delicious."

Jesse said...

rapid aging via ultrasonic waves has been shown to be feasible for high-alcohol chinese rice wines (A.C. Chang, F.C. Chen / Food Chemistry 79 (2002) 501–506), but the method involves repeated ultrasonic atomization, so the technique would require removing the wine from the bottle first. the method has not been tasted for western wines or even for japanese sakes. it does not work on chinese maize wine.

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