Monday, June 8, 2015

Could Nathan Myhrvold's aeration tips be full of hot air?

I've talked about Nathan Myhrvold on the other blog, usually regarding his company Intellectual Ventures or his odd position on solar cells, but for most of the non-geek world, Myhrvold is best known for writing about food and since this is a food blog.

JOHN LANCHESTER writing for the New Yorker.
He hired two chefs who had worked in the kitchen of the Fat Duck, the science-minded experimental restaurant in Bray, England, and got busy. The result is an astounding magnum opus, “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking” (The Cooking Lab; $625), which was written by Myhrvold and his chefs Chris Young and Maxime Bilet, and “required the combined efforts of several dozen people over the span of three years.” This isn’t how most cookbooks are produced, but, as the authors point out, “that level of effort is the norm for a major reference work or college textbook.” The book consists of five thick, thirteen-by-eleven-inch volumes and a ring-bound volume of recipes, and comes in at twenty-four hundred and thirty-eight pages. In its packed state, it weighs forty-six pounds. The scale and ambition of the project—and maybe at least one of the egos behind it—are Pharaonic.
One of the innovations Myhrvold came up with was “hyperdecanting,” aerating wine by running it through a blender. It sounds reasonable, particularly when explained with the boundless self-confidence Myhrvold brings to all of his interviews. 

Of course, Myhrvold brings that same self-assurance to subjects like global warming and intellectual property. His assertions in those areas haven't held up to scrutiny, so you have to wonder what an independent test might reveal.

It was time to do our own Wine-Searcher test. Myhrvold's instructions for his experiment are pretty simple. Pour the wine into the blender and zap it on the highest setting for 30 to 60 seconds. Then let the froth subside before serving.

We selected two young reds – the sort of wine that he'd suggested would benefit most from "hyper-decanting": a $17 Australian merlot and an $18 South African pinotage.

One third of each bottle would go into the blender and be whizzed for 45 seconds – the midpoint of Myhrvold's 30 to 60 seconds. Another third would be decanted in the normal way and left to sit for an hour, while the remainder would be poured direct from the bottle.

Interestingly, the wine samples that had been through the blender were the least liked by the Wine-Searcher tasting panel. Instead, the wines poured straight from the bottle were considered to have retained the most fruit and a linear structure.
Obviously, it would be nice to know a bit more about how this experiment was conducted – it’s not even clear whether it was a blind test – but at the very least, the outcome does suggest that maybe we should be taking this and other claims from Modernist Cuisine with, if you'll pardon the metaphor, a grain of salt.

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