Saturday 2nd of June 2012

Wine by the Slurp

January 10 2012
A while ago I wrote about the Licensing Act 2003 amendment forcing the availability of 125ml measures of wine. Well things have gone a step further very recently in 'Weights and Measures (Specified Quantities) (Unwrapped Bread and Intoxicating Liquor) Order 2011'.

Wine can now legally be sold in any measure below 75ml (although for as long as I can remember drinking, pubs and restaurants have always been happy to pour me a taster before I bought a glass or bottle).

This all came about from the Wonderbar at Selfridges. They sold wine by the sip (25ml) and were told to stop in 2007 as it breached the 1988 Weights and Measures Order. After much campaigning the law has been amended and the ban lifted. That is fantastic news. I love the idea of being able to try normally unreachable wines by the sip (more like a slurp).

So how are these minute measures served? Well the Wonderbar uses the Enomatic wine dispensing system, hand made in Tuscany. It works by saturating the space left when dispensing wine with an inert gas like Argon or Nitrogen, helping prevent wine contact with oxygen and therefore keeping it fresh for longer (apparently up to 30 days). It all sounds very convenient and precise, but I have issues with this sort of industrialised serving of wine.

I would worry about the cleanliness of the machine, even with automated cleaning systems wine is so delicate that a tainted serving sounds a distinct possibility. Also there is lots of debate about how effective inert gasses really are at stopping wine oxidation. After all there must be some degrading of the wine in these systems once the bottle is opened, or the shelf life of an opened bottle would be as long as an unopened one. Don't forget that Argon and Nitrogen are parts of the air we breathe, and are therefore found mixed up with oxygen in our atmosphere. The agitation from pouring a glass from this type of system would surely create a mixture of oxygen and inert gasses, so it sounds unlikely you will ever achieve a fully sealed layer of inert gas over wine outside of laboratory conditions?

How do you accurately measure the day by day stepped change of the wine after opening, and at what point does it become something that not was designed to be consumed?

Do I want to be paying for a glass of wine that may be a week old and although not beyond drinkable, perhaps surely not at it's best?

It feels like the wine bottle is the udder of a cow plumbed into an automatic milking machine. Most unappetising. There is something nice about having wine poured directly from a bottle by hand at a bar or table. The simplicity, aesthetics and trust of the traditional serving method sits well with me.

But we live in an imperfect world. These rather grotesque innovations deliver wine theatrics, wine overload, choices beyond choices, but most of all fun.


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