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Wine gadgets that are worth keeping

Received an arsenal of wine accessories for Christmas? Some of them are best offloaded on eBay

31 January 2011

JANUARY is a time for resolutions, regimes, out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new, and offloading unwanted Christmas gifts on eBay. Among them should be certain wine accessories.

Oddly, wine paraphernalia manufacturers assume the bright lights of Christmas turn ordinary people into gadget fetishists, offering us flappy-paddle corkscrews, electric suction pumps, cap foil cutters, argon gas preserving canisters, and (my favourite) a wine stopper with a four-figure combination lock.

But looking at these contraptions, I wonder: whoever put James Bond’s master of invention, "Q", in charge of wine gadgets? What happened to the simple "waiter’s friend"?

In Dr No, Bond didn’t even have a gadget. Then, in From Russia With Love, he had Q and a briefcase with a hidden dagger, gold sovereigns and exploding canisters. Before you could say Goldfinger, the briefcase had become an Aston-Martin.

The same has happened to wine accessories. So which of them are pure Honey Ryder (the best Bond girl, played by Ursula Andress in Dr No) and which are just Plenty O’Toole (played by Lana Wood in the lame Diamonds Are Forever)?

Put another way, which should you keep and which should you offload? Flappy-paddle corkscrews are very Bond. But they take three hands to operate and the self-congratulation that comes with using one is diminished by the silly feeling you’ve just used a folding helicopter to cross the street.

Worryingly, mine came with spare parts, presumably for when it’s betrayed by its poor manufacture. What am I bid?

Ditto argon gas wine preservers and suction pumps. The rigmarole of preserving wine by either method is scarcely rewarded by the result. Apart from the fact that some wines actually gain in complexity from exposure to air, just how often do you not finish a bottle of wine within three or four days? Put a cork in it, Plenty. And pop it in the fridge.

Because serving wine at the recommended temperature is important, wine thermometers are handy. The bracelet type slips easily around a bottle and tells you if a wine needs to chill, or is already chambré. Some helpfully include the wine type associated with the temperature. Keep them, but grow out of them. They are accessories, after all.

I do like gadgets that aerate wine as you pour. They pop sleekly into a bottle’s neck and render redundant incommodious decanters. Both soften wine, but not by mellowing tannins, as we are inclined to believe. To achieve that quickly would take high pressure, pure oxygen, extreme temperatures and contact with a catalytic surface (like iron filings), Mr Bond.

What these gadgets actually do is to allow the sometimes potent odour of sulphur in wine to dissipate. That’s why aerated wines smell and taste better that wines drunk from a freshly opened bottle. Alternatively, to eliminate sulphur notes, you can drop a coin into your glass, or stir the wine with a steel knife (if you happen to have those items in your briefcase).

Curiously, there are no gadgets for removing the unpleasant, dank flavour of a "corked" wine, which renders a wine unsuitable for both drinking and cooking. In the absence of Q, here’s a tip from Andrew Waterhouse, professor of wine chemistry at top US wine school and my alma mater, the University of California, Davis: pour the wine into a bowl lined with cling film.

This messy but effective home-made solution works because the trichloroanisole (TCA) responsible for infecting corks is chemically similar to polyethylene and sticks to the plastic film in just a few minutes. Alternatively, if you're not worried about compromising your "shaken, not stirred" image, you can combine aerating your wine with treating it for TCA by blowing bubbles into your glass through a plastic straw.

If he had had an arsenal of wine accessories, Auric Goldfinger would have chosen more wisely than strapping 007 to a table and threatening him with a laser. He could have sucked the life out him with my electric wine pump, or threatened him with a bottle sealed with a combination lock stopper and the words, "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die... of thirst."

Jonathan Healey is the author of The Wines of Roussillon (Trabucaire) and Discovering Wine Country: South of France (Mitchell-Beazley). He hosts wine tours and tasting events in the Roussillon.

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