A quick burst of high-voltage electricity could turn a bottle of cheap plonk into a fine, mellow mature wine that will fool the most discerning palate.
Five wineries in China have started scientific trials using electric fields to speed up the process of ageing wine.
If the new technology is successful, it will enable China’s relatively young wine industry to accelerate production to meet rising demand. It will also keep the cost down, by eliminating the need to age wine in wooden barrels.
Details of the plug-in ageing process are revealed today in New Scientist magazine, but, sadly, it’s far too complicated to try at home.
Developed by a chemist at the South China university of technology in Guangzhou, Xin An Zeng, it involves pumping wine through a pipe running between two titanium electrodes fed with a high-voltage electric charge.
Batches of a three-month-old cabernet sauvignon were zapped for one, three, or eight minutes, then analysed for chemical changes that might alter ”mouth feel and quality”.
The youngest a raw wine can be drunk is six months, with most red wines taking much longer to lose the bitter taste of tannin and develop a fine aroma, or nose.
The three-month-old Chinese cabernet was given to a panel of 12 experienced wine tasters after being zapped for a blind taste test.
”The results were striking. With the gentlest treatment, the harsh astringent wine grew softer. Longer exposure saw some of the hallmarks of ageing emerge a more mature nose, better balance and greater complexity,” New Scientist reports.
The best results were achieved after ”three minutes at 600 volts per centimetre”, which gave the electrified wine an aroma similar to an aged wine, as well as the recognisable taste of a mature cabernet sauvignon. But there’s obviously an art to applying the zap. Dr Zeng’s team found upping the voltage and applying it for a longer period made the wine ”worse than the untreated original”.
Although he hasn’t yet discovered exactly how exposure to an electric field alters the wine’s chemistry. Dr Zeng says more than a decade of experiments shows under the right conditions, a quick shot of high-voltage electricity can accelerate some aspects of the ageing process.
”Not only can it shorten a wine’s normal storage time, it can also improve some lower-quality wines. It works just as well with other grape varieties such as merlot and shiraz,” he told New Scientist.
And the French aren’t sneering. University of Burgundy’s oenology professor, Herve Alexandre, has declared the zap is ”a feasible way to shorten maturation times”.