Love wine but tired of the hassle of pouring it into a decanter and waiting more than 30 seconds to drink it? Good news! Assuming you have any Yuppie friends, there's a strong chance you'll be the recipient of a Vinturi wine aerator as a holiday present this year. They're all the rage (especially with types who already own The Rabbit bottle opener).
The Vinturi wine aerator is a 6"-tall device that looks a little like a funnel and is meant to speed up the process of decanting. To use it, pour wine through the Vinturi into your glass, and watch the device take advantage of Bernoulli's Principal, which states that as the speed of a fluid increases, the pressure within it decreases. According to a Vinturi rep, this "accelerates the natural blending of air and wine, revealing its true essence and character." In other words, the Vinturi claims that it can do in a matter of seconds what a decanter does in an hour or more. Sounds good. But also sounds gimmicky.
We sat down with New York sommeliers Michael Madrigale (Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud), Francesco Grosso (Marea), and Jordan Salcito (Crown) for a blind tasting to find out if a Vinturi really delivers a better glass of wine.
A total of four wines of varying styles were tasted blind in four flights; each flight consisted of a glass that had been poured directly into the glass and one that had been poured into the glass through the Vinturi aerator. Each sommelier was asked to choose the wine they preferred and discuss the differences between the two glasses in each flight.
Flight #1: Peter Lauer Riesling 2010 Barrel X
To test drive the designated Vinturi White Wine Aerator we went with a German riesling from the 2010 vintage--a year known for its tongue-splitting acidity and austerity--to see if the device could twist the key in the lock.
Before we get into the tasting, a side note: As the first drops of wine met the Vinturi, it let out a noise that toes a thin line between sloshing and muffled screaming. The pourer was so surprised that she missed the glass, and every single person in the room stopped to stare, then laugh. In other words, the thing sounds ridiculous, like a dying cat.
After we dried our eyes, we got to talking about the wines. Wine #1 (au naturel) was sharp, edgy and mineral driven with the kind of acidity that's become a hallmark of this vintage. Wine #2 (Vinturi) was rounder and more approachable, but it sacrificed that mineral edge for Jezebelian fruit. Jordan Salcito, the wine director at NYC's Crown, felt that aromatics in wine #2 were more pronounced, but that the alcohol poked out, making the wine feel a bit flabby and unbalanced. The rest of us agreed that wine #2 was less austere, but that it lacked the vibrancy, balance and minerality of wine #1.
Flight #2: Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2007
The nebbiolo grape, the variety responsible for the famed wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, is notorious for breeding wines that are as capricious and tannic as an angsty teen. These are wines that typically require time or, if that's a virtue you don't have, significant aeration. Wine #1 (au naturel) was definitely tense, with aromatics that leaned heavily on red cherry fruit and some herbaceousness lurking in the waits. The aromatics in wine #2 (Vinturi) were completely different: It was earthy and the fruit was darker, with more mineral character. Beyond aromatics, the most striking difference that the group found in the wines was textural. Wine #4 was softer and had more length (the Cadillac DeVille to #1's compact car, if you will) and it drank as if it had time to turn down the music and unlock the door. Even though Francesco Grosso, wine director at Marea, lamented the loss of bright, fresh fruit in #4, the group still unanimously favored it.
#3 Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 We wanted to get a big California cab in the mix to see how the Vinturi would perform with a wine that flirts with 15.5% alcohol and has fruit for days. Here, wine #1 (au naturel), was open showing aromas of flowers, graphite and mint. There was still a good deal of wood and alcohol in the wine, but in comparison to wine #2 (Vinturi)--which Michael Madrigale called a "lard ass" that's all "asses and elbows"--there was also more intrigue and balance. The group guessed (or hoped) that wine #1, which was softer and more aromatic, went through Vinturi, but Madrigale, the lone dissenter, said that he had "never heard of decanting a wine to make the alcohol show less, ever." And he added that if the Vinturi could "change wine #2 into wine #1," he'd buy it. But he won't be purchasing one this year. In this case, the aerator stripped the wine of its aromas and left #2 with nothing but oak and alcohol.
#4 Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas 2005 Classic Gigondas, like this one, is often rustic and lo-fi, the sort of wine that drinks like old photos of Chateaneuf-du-Pape (its glamorous neighbor) before it got famous. Wine #1 (Vinturi) was effusive with a funk that could rival ÿpoisses de Bourgogne with tart red fruit around the edges, but the group noticed that the wine seemed a bit oxidized and muddy. Wine #2 (au naturel) was pure funk and much tighter and closed, but most of us preferred the tension in #2 to #1, which felt as if it was blown apart, leaving bits and pieces of what used to be organized tannins, acid, and fruit. The group all suspected that #1 had been through the Vinturi, and that it had a negative effect on the structure of the wine, and unanimously chose wine #2 despite its aggression.
The moral of this story is: Be careful what you wish for. The Vinturi definitely does something, but in three of four cases it turned wines--each quite different stylistically--into less desirable versions of their former selves. In the case of the Barbaresco, the Vinturi did exactly what it promised to do: It lengthened and opened up the wine in a matter of seconds. But there is too much variation in its effects. This group of sommeliers unanimously agreed that the risk isn't worth the occasional payoff. Our advice: Throw the wine in the decanter and drink it over the course of an hour. If nothing else, it's certainly less noisy.