If you are a fan of young bold red wines, I have a magic wand for you.
Wine PrO2 is one of the simplest, most useful wine devices in years. Its design is so basic that it took nearly nine years to earn a patent because the patent examiner couldn't believe the idea was unique.
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Here is that idea: rather than oxygenate wine using air, which is only 21 percent oxygen, the WinePrO2 zaps it with a short blast of 100-percent oxygen. There's some elegance to the engineering but the concept is simple.
I'm a skeptic about most wine gadgets, but this won me over the first time I tried it. I had a glass of Syrah with impeccable pedigree that was tight, not very aromatic, and not very flavorful. Was it disappointing wine, or did it just need decanting? If the latter, I could have poured it into a bigger container and hopefully in an hour it would be better.
Instead, I slid the Wine PrO2 wand into the glass, pressed a button for a half second, and immediately the wine was more fragrant, the tannins softer, and the flavors more expressive. It was, literally, the equivalent of two hours of decanting. And I do mean literally; we'll get into the chemistry in a moment.
Wine PrO2 was created by Tom Belcher, 54, an engineer in Cleveland, Ohio. After finally getting two patents for it last year he quit his job at a Fortune 500 engineering company to sell the device fulltime. (Fortunately his wife works at a large insurance company and he says she's very supportive.)
Belcher got the idea while visiting his relatives in California shortly after another simple aeration device, the Vinturi, was introduced. The Vinturi, like every other aeration device, works by pushing air past the wine.
"In 2008 we were up in Napa and the Vinturi came out," Belcher told Wine-Searcher. "That was all the rage. They were pulling it out at all the tasting rooms. My wife bought me one for my birthday. We were using it and we couldn't tell if it was making the wine different. The more we drank, the better it tasted. Based on my background, I thought, how do we approach this with some kind of measurements to quantify what the device is doing?"
Belcher had worked on an oxidation process in industry. His company was using laser patterns on hydraulic cylinder rods to report the position of the cylinders to a sensor. He discovered that if the cylinder rods were oxidized, the patterns were easier for the sensor to read. (Think about rusty metal: rust is oxidation, and the color stands out.) So he added a device that blew pure oxygen right where the laser pattern was aimed.
"That was the impetus," Belcher said. "A lot of new developments come from cross pollination from one industry to another. It put the idea in my head."
Oxygen, not air, is why decanting makes wine smell and taste better. Inside a sealed bottle of wine, naturally occurring sulfur forms compounds called mercaptans. Some mercaptans smell bad, while others simply mask the fruit aromas you expect. We describe decanting as letting a wine "breathe", but letting it fart would be more accurate; the mercaptans combine with oxygen from the air and are released. But because air is only 21 percent oxygen, the process takes time.
"Younger wines tend to have gases in there that are not real appealing," Belcher said. "Adding oxygen tends to blow that off and bring out the fruitiness and other characters."
Belcher used a dissolved oxygen meter to measure the process. He says still wines in a bottle contain only about 20 to 25 percent of the dissolved oxygen that the liquid could hold. Using the Vinturi does help, he found; Belcher said it raises the dissolved oxygen level to 40 percent immediately. But the ultimate goal is to reach an equilibrium of about 80 percent. This will happen after two or three hours in a decanter, he said.
"I thought, how can I get it to 80 percent very quickly?" Belcher said. "Maybe I can use pure oxygen. Through a number of iterations I came up with the nozzle. The nozzle has a lot of very fine holes, and it creates very fine bubbles."
The process is exactly the same as what winemakers do when they micro-oxygenate a wine in the winery, so you can now be Michel Rolland at home!
"It's all food-grade stainless steel," Belcher said. "It creates very fine bubbles that create a lot of surface area in the wine. I can reach that two to three hour decanting point in less than a second."
That led to a very simple design, so simple that the patent office wasn't initially impressed. The device is a wand and a base to which you attach a can of pure oxygen; it snaps into place. You press a button. That's it. I struggled the first time I used the Coravin, but this device is very hard to screw up.
"It's a simple device when you hold it in your hand now, but it took a lot of engineering to get to that point to make everything work," Belcher said.
He designed it for aeration, but as long as he's selling you cans of gas and a wand, he decided to throw in preservation as well. The device also comes with cans of argon gas. You can snap out the oxygen and snap in the argon, and give a short spray into an open bottle of wine before recorking it. This method of wine preservation is effective for a few days and was already on the market; it's a throw-in that was not part of the patent.
You can get a 10 percent discount on a Wine PrO2 from the company's website through the end of the year by using the discount code WINESEARCHER2020.
Give your wines the gas: they'll thank you for it.