John JuergensStupid wine gizmos: Save your money

It's that time of year when holiday shopping catalogs start choking your mailbox. I just received the latest catalog for all manner of wine gizmos and accessories. Many of these are bogus, so I'm going to give you some suggestions on the kinds of trinkets that might be worthwhile; and, more important, I want to identify those what are just a waste of money.

First, let's get the biggy out of the way: So-called wine preservation systems, which involve either pumping air out of a partially consumed bottle of wine, or putting in other gases to displace that evil wine nemesis, air.

More than ten years ago the people at Wine Spectator magazine did a nice article that tested a variety of these vacuum pump devices, and none of them did anything to help preserve the quality of wine over just plugging the bottle with the cork or some other kind of closure. I did my own blind tests as well, and the pump things made absolutely no difference in the taste of the wine up to several days later over just using the cork and putting the wine in the frig. There sure much be a lot of gullible people out there because these things just keep coming in all sorts of fancy reincarnations.

If you can't finish a bottle of wine, just put the cork back in the bottle and put it in the refrigerator. Period. This applies to both red and white wines. For the red wines, all you have to do is pull the bottle out, pour it into a glass, and in about 15 minutes or less it will be just about at the right drinking temperature. I've tested wines as far out as four days before any truly noticeable changes occur. So save your money. If you already have some of these worthless things, re-gift them or put them in the box for your next garage sale.

The flip side to this issue is the air displacement and preservation products that put inert gasses such as nitrogen and other unnatural things into a partially consumed bottle. Same issue: The kinds of wines made today are so massive that you can tan animal hides with some of them. Trust me, they are not going to fall apart over the next couple of days in your frig.

Okay, this next one doesn't even pass the straight-face test. Any gadget that claims to "age" the wine or soften the tannins in less than a year is a rip off. Don't buy it. These things come in a variety of disguises, but the most common are magical metal "alloys," and quartz crystals on golden chains. Some of these things cost as much as $120, for which you could buy some serious wine that doesn't require any fiddling with to make it drinkable.

In this age of digital everything, I've noticed a wave of laser-equipped digital thermometers that supposedly read the temperature of the wine from outside the bottle. Yeah, yeah, it's a cute trick, but you can bring a red wine down to proper drinking temperature, about 62 degrees, just by putting it into the refrigerator for one hour. For whites, one and a half hours will bring it down to about 52. Some of these things come imbedded in the handle of an ultra-modern looking corkscrew. But they are pricey, and I bet the owner wouldn't use it much after the first few bottles.

If you want to give wine accessory gifts, go for something useful. Wine bottle stoppers have become an art form in themselves, and they will work just fine to preserve that half bottle of Chardonnay. Decanters, personalize coasters, wine glasses, corkscrews, and other such accoutrements can make nice gifts for wine lovers. There is even a website with a selection of cool t-shirts with clever plays on wine jargon. Check out Just avoid anything that attempts to diddle with the wine. If it isn't obvious how an item works, and if it just seems a bit too good to be true, chances are it is bogus. So don't waste your money. Buy wine instead and just drink it.

November 2007

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