Katherine Bourzac

A View from Katherine Bourzac

Materials Tricks for Better Wine

How plastic wrap draws dank chemicals out of corked wine.

  • January 16, 2009

In his column for the New York Times Dining section, Harold McGee investigates whether various products on the market (and materials in his kitchen) can improve the taste of wine. Most wine-science products are based on pseudoscience, McGee concludes, and do no better for your quaff than letting it sit in a decanter for an hour or so. Worse still, they cost as much as, well, a lot of good wine. Aerating the wine by agitating it can soften the flavor, McGee writes, but oxygen reacts with compounds in the wine very slowly. Dipping pennies, a carbon steel knife, and other metals in wine caused its voltage to go up (yes, McGee measured it) but didn’t improve its flavor.

The coolest tip in the article comes from Andrew Waterhouse, a professor of enology at the University of California, Davis. If your wine gets corked, leaving it with a dank flavor that makes it unsuitable even for cooking, you can pour it into a bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap.

“It’s kind of messy, but very effective in just a few minutes,” he said. The culprit molecule in infected corks, 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is chemically similar to polyethylene and sticks to the plastic.

McGee is the author of the classic guide to food science On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. For more on the science of wine, read our 2007 article on the sequencing of the pinot noir genome.

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