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John On Wine ­ – Save that wine!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on June 6, 2014
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Whenever I talk about wine preservation, I can count on someone saying, “I always finish the bottle.” This column isn’t for you Tipsy McStagger, but for those of us who only want a glass or two, not a whole bottle in a night; or who at a party finish a bottle or two but want to pour one more glass and not an entire third bottle. Here’s a look at many ways to keep your wine good from glass to glass.

Savino is a simple, elegant, and effective wine preservation system; a cylindrical glass carafe, with a fluted opening which makes pouring wine easy, a glass float with collar, and a top to close the carafe against accidental spill. I was sent one as a review sample and I tried it out, both at home and at work. I found it keeps a bottle’s worth of wine good, glass after glass for about five to seven days. The Savino Wine Preservation Carafe is $60 for the glass model in a gorgeous gift box, or $30 for the same design in plastic.

Wine Preserva is a simple system with a round floating disc that has a radial cut fringed edge allowing it to fit inside of any wine bottle and self adjust for interior circumference. Like Savino, the wine is protected from air by a floating seal directly on top of the wine. The cost is $6 for a 10-pack or $30 for a 50-pack, Wine Preserva is used, and then tossed with the bottle when empty.

In my tasting room, I use a big tank of argon, an inert gas that is heavier than oxygen. The tank, regulator, hose, and wand run about $300, with refills of argon running about $40. I am able to spray a protective layer of argon into each opened bottle between glasses, not displacing oxygen, but blanketing the wine and protecting it from oxygen. A tank lasts 3-4 months in the tasting room and many, many years at home.

Probably the most ubiquitous wine preservation tool is the VacuVin, a device that purports to create a vacuum by pumping all of the air from inside a wine bottle through special one-way valved stoppers. Inexpensive, with a near endless line of fans, the product brings to mind the quote, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

We’re not talking about meat in a bag, but wine in a bottle and sucking the air out of a wine bottle strips away aroma and flavor, as described by Matt Kramer in Wine Spectator. The vacuum created is at best partial, a mere pressure differential with air remaining inside the bottle, and a leak rate that allows more air back in, as measured in two independent laboratories, ETS Labs and a university science lab for Kramer’s piece. Consumer Reports found the VacuVin no better at saving wine flavors than just jamming the old cork back in.

Better than just jamming the old porous cork in, is resealing with The Corker, a non porous sealer that is both decorative and functional. About $20 online at TheCorker.com, or at an art and wine festival, one size fits all bottles, keeps carbonation in a bubbly, allows still wines to be stored on their side in the fridge without leaking, and can be used in concert with Private Preserve for top notch preservation.

Less expensive than a $300 argon tank set up, but based on the same idea, is Private Preserve small $10 cans of gas, nitrogen mixed with argon, that similarly blanket between wine and oxygen when sprayed into a bottle. I like pure argon better, because nitrogen has a lighter atomic weight than oxygen and does not protect by blanketing, but by displacement and complete displacement of oxygen with nitrogen is unlikely. The argon in the can is doing the work here with the nitrogen keeping the price down.

Coravin is a remarkable device that allows you to extract wine through the cork without opening the bottle, using a medical grade needle while blanketing the remaining wine with argon. The argon is actually used to create pressure inside the bottle, pumping the wine out. Not inexpensive, $299 retail for the device, two argon canisters, and a display base. I saw it in use through Sonoma Valley as it allowed tasting rooms to offer tastes of high end, high dollar, wines by the glass without concern about oxidation. Unfortunately, there is a very small but real chance that the wine bottle may explode. Seven people have reported a bottle explosion, and one owner, holding a bottle near his face, cut his lip and chipped his tooth when a bottle burst.

Wine bottles can withstand six to 10 times the pressure a Coravin creates, but a flawed bottle, chipped by accident or with a large bubble in the glass through manufacturing defect has less strength, and sales of Coravins have been suspended until neoprene bottle sleeves can be distributed to all current owners and included at sale for all future owners.

The Air Cork is familiar if you watch television’s Shark Tank; a purple balloon on the end of a hose, with a grape shaped squeeze ball on the other end. This wine preservation system has you put the hose into a wine bottle, balloon touching the wine, and pump, pump, pump, you inflate the balloon, displacing oxygen and creating a protective barrier from air for the wine. Offered $400,000 by “The Sharks,” the creator turned the offer down, and the product is available on Amazon for $25.

 

John on Wine- Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin

By John Cesano

Updated:   04/04/2013 10:58:27 AM PDT

(NOTE: This piece was edited down for the paper from a longer piece that ran here in the blog years ago. -John)

One of my wine industry jobs was with the Wine Appreciation Guild, one of the industry’s largest publishers of wine books and a one-stop distributor of both wine books and accessories. My job was to sell wine books and wine accessories to winery tasting rooms, wine shops, and other specialty merchants in 42 California counties.

There was one item I refused to sell.

Vacu-Vin. There is no wine preservation system more ubiquitous. Gwyneth Paltrow told Oprah that it is a “must-have” in her kitchen. Every frau and pretentious wine poser in the country has one. Sales of the devices number in the tens of millions.

For the one or two of you who are unfamiliar with Vacu-Vin, here’s what the manufacturers say:

“The Wine Saver is a vacuum pump, which extracts the air from the opened bottle and re-seals it with a re-usable rubber stopper. Place the re-usable stopper in the bottle and extract the air from the bottle using the Wine Saver pump. A “click” sound tells you when you have reached the optimum vacuum level. The vacuum slows down the oxidation process which makes it possible to enjoy your wine again at a later date. The question “how often do I have to pump?” is a thing of the past. The unique and patented vacuum indicator will emit a “click” sound when the correct vacuum is reached.”

The Wine Appreciation Guild carried them, and everyone I worked with wanted them to sell in their stores.

I had a problem. To my mind, the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work:

“The “Vacu-Vin” device as submitted was evaluated to determine efficacy in reduction of oxidative spoilage in opened wines. Using the protocol described above, the “Vacu-Vin” device was found to have no measurable effect in reduction of oxidative spoilage.” -Gordon Burns, ETS Laboratories, 1204 Church Street, St. Helena, CA 94574

and:

“Vacu-vin” doesn’t work, It never has. Sensorily – to me anyway – the Vacu-vin was a shuck. You could track the deterioration in each sample. Indeed, just recorking the wine worked equally as well ­ or as badly.

The (Wall Street) Journal asked Professor David Roe of the Portland State University chemistry department to test the gizmo. At best he achieved a vacuum of somewhat less than 70 percent. In just 90 minutes, he reported, the vacuum pressure diminished by 15 percent.

I asked Professor Roe to repeat his test with a newly purchased (newer, ‘improved’, model) Vacu-Vin. The results? “The pump is more efficient, but no more effective,” he reports. “The vacuum is the same, around 70 to 75 percent. And the leak rate is the same: After two hours you lose 25 percent of the vacuum. Overnight ­ 12 hours ­ the vacuum is totally gone.” -Matt Kramer, “A Giant Sucking Sound And That’s All”

and:

“Unnecessary equipment: There’s no clear need for Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver and other wine-preservation systems, our tests suggest.

A lot of people turn to wine-preservation systems that seek to retard or stop oxidation, the chemical process that degrades wine. If you’re among those who swear by such systems, we have surprising news, based on our tests of four widely known brands: No system beat simply recorking the bottle and sticking it in the fridge.” – Wine Spectator.

and:

Getting the air out: The Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver, $10, uses rubber stoppers (two are provided) with a pump that sucks out air.

We tested three varietals with the systems on three different occasions for three different periods of time. For comparison, we also stoppered one bottle with its own cork. After all the bottles spent time in our wine cellar, expert wine consultants compared their contents in blind taste tests with freshly opened bottles. If our trained experts, with nearly 60 years in the business, couldn’t discern among wine storage systems, most consumers probably can’t, either. So just go ahead and cork it (you can turn the cork over if it’s easier to get in). But try not to wait more than a week or so to drink the wine, and sooner is better.” – Consumer Reports, December 2006

 

 

 

I would tell the buyers for the winery tasting rooms, the wine shops, and the kitchen stores that the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work ­ but it didn’t stop most of them, because you, the home customer, wanted to buy and use these things.

When I see a wine bar using a Vacu-Vin, I won’t drink any but the first glass from a bottle.

Here’s the deal: when you open wine and let it breathe, you are letting tannins dissipate, alcohol flush burn off, and fruit come forward. You’ll find that the hot, harsh, and closed Cabernet at opening becomes a smooth delicious beverage with blackberry and currant notes with a little time. Oxygen is wine’s friend initially.

While I am prepping food for dinner, I usually open a bottle, or more than one bottle if cooking for friends, pour a little of each in a separate wine glass, so I can repeatedly swirl and sniff each. I am looking for the wine to open and become perfect. At that point, I recork the bottle so I can just open, pour, and seal all the way through the meal. I know the last glass will be as good as the first. If not perfect, every glass is pretty darn good.

If I opened the wine, let it breathe, and then ignored it, the fruit would follow the tannins, and perfect would become sad. Oxygen, so important to a wine at opening, becomes wine’s enemy afterward. Leaving a wine open ruins wine over time.

Pumping the air out of a bottle of wine with a Vacu-Vin strips the wine of some aroma and bouquet. Each time it is used it can harm the wine. To me, a couple of seconds is like hours of damage. Kramer described the loss of delicate notes in his piece for spectator.

The Vacu-Vin doesn’t even create a complete vacuum. As tested, fully 25-30 percent of the air, and oxygen, remains inside the bottle ­ before the Vacu-Vin fails and all of the air, and oxygen returns. To me, the worst think about the Vacu-Vin is that consumers are fooled into a false sense of preservation security and don’t seek another, effective, method to save the aroma, bouquet, and flavors of a bottle of wine in between glasses.

Matt Kramer and the Wall Street Journal engaged a University science department professor who measured the Vacu-Vin’s fail using drills and tubes and meters, all very high tech. Similar high tech methods were used by Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories and the testers at Consumer Reports.

At work, in the tasting room, I use 100 percent pure Argon, an inert gas that is heavier than oxygen, from a large tank. Shooting a little into a bottle, then recorking it, allows the Argon to settle and provide a protective blanket between wine and oxygen. Smaller home versions are available, with Private Preserve, a nitrogen/argon mix, the most easily found. More expensive, but also more efficacious, WineSave is 100 percent pure food grade Argon in a can available at WineSave.com

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John Cesano does not get a kickback from private preserve or winesave, but wishes he did.
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John On Wine blog bonus -

I polished a popular piece posted previously here, and it was published in the printed paper, perhaps a partial week ago.  (Note: sorry for the alliteration, once started, that last sentence wrote itself).

I also visited Matheson Tri-Gas, a commercial supplier and asked about the cost of an Argon tank for the serious hedonist, the folks who care about preserving quality of wine glass to glass, and those foodies who want to prevent cooking oil from becoming rancid and vinegars from becoming musty.

A small tank (it isn’t really small, but it is smaller than a commercial tank) runs about $100. The regulator runs another $100. The hose, nozzle, and other fittings runs a third $100. Initial cost: $300. from that point on, tank can be filled or refilled with Argon for about $30 and a small (big really) tank would last practically forever used at home.

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