Electric Maturation How to Make Cheap Wine Taste Like a Fine Vintage

Thought I would share with you something that you may not have heard of as my contribution to the Wine Society's ( wouldn't call it a society as such Ed.) newsletter. I'm writing about it for a couple of reasons: firstly, it's an exciting new discovery that may have dramatic implications for wine lovers who have to enjoy wine on a shoestring, and secondly, because it's a home-grown technology, discovered right here in Guangzhou.

Xin An Zeng, a chemist at the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, decided a few years ago to see if he could improve the maturation of wines using electric fields instead of heat treatment. Zeng and his colleagues showed promising early results and decided to develop a prototype plant in which they could treat wine with fields of different strengths for different periods of time.

The researchers pumped the wine through a pipe that ran between two titanium electrodes, fed with a high voltage field. They then tested a 3-month-old cabernet sauvignon from the Suntime Winery, China's largest producer. Batches of wine spent 1, 3 or 8 minutes in various electric fields. The team then analyzed the treated wine for chemical changes that might alter its "mouth feel" and quality, and passed it to a panel of 12 experienced wine tasters who assessed it in a blind tasting test.

The experimentation showed very promising results, as the harsh, astringent wine grew softer. Longer exposure produced a more mature "nose", better balance and greater complexity.

Although Zeng cannot yet explain how exposure to an electric field alters the wine's chemistry, it is claimed that his results show that under the right conditions the technique can accelerate some aspects of the aging process."Not only can it shorten a wine's normal storage time, it can also improve some lower-quality wine," he says. "It works just as well with other grape varieties such as merlot and shiraz."

Five Chinese wineries have already begun trials.

The chemistry behind the process seems to enable the bitter tannin molecules that make wine acidic to combine with each other and with pigment molecules at a faster rate to form larger polymers, hence releasing the volatile molecules known as esters that give wine its fragrant aroma.

If you are interested to experiment with this process, short of wiring up your own battery contraption around your beloved bottles of Great Wall red, there is a product already on the market-- the Vintage Enhancer. You might dismiss this as snake oil, pseudoscience and perhaps it is. However, it is clear that the vintners would have a vested interest in suppressing a technology that can create glugable, vintage wines in a very short time. Perhaps it's worth doing an experiment and finding out if Chinese vintners are already using this.

Contributed by Peter Howe

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