"A fool and his money are soon parted," as the obscure British horticulturist and quotemeister Thomas Tusser said in the 16th century, a bit of folk wisdom that the American impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum restated even more pungently some 300 years later as "There's a sucker born every minute."
Here's a snippet from an E-mail solicitation I received from a Hong Kong-based producer. The spiel is a little more candid than some of the more sophisticated marketing that U.S.-based manufacturers generally deliver, but it mines the same vein that goes straight back to Barnum:
MagicFlavor Plug-in Magnetizing Dispenser for Red Wine and Brandy
Here's a quick field guide to some of the more widely advertised devices:
The Wine Clip (http://www.thewineclip.com/) is a metallic-plastic device that clips around the wine bottle neck, holding six purportedly powerful magnets close to the wine as it's being poured. This brief exposure to a magnetic field, the maker claims, seems to involve nothing less than atomic fission: It splits up molecules suspended into the wine into smaller molecules, thus breaking down the wine's impurities and tannins. "It's the physical change which accounts for the enhanced flavor and bouquet. The taste of many small molecules is smoother than the taste of fewer large molecules," the manufacturer claims. It retails for $35.
Wine Cellar Express (http://www.winecellarexpress.com/), declares itself "the only patented discovery that miraculously 'ages your wine to perfection' in 30 or less minutes!" Place your wine bottle on this round coaster (available in woodgrain or brushed aluminum), the maker claims, and a magnetic field will soften or reduce the wine's harsh tannins in a half-hour, replicating a natural process that requires years in the cellar. It sells for around $45.
The Perfect Sommelier (http://www.perfectsommelier.com/) Patent or no, Perfect Sommelier's advertising material bears a striking resemblance to the Wine Cellar Express spiel. "This product has been scientifically proven," its Website boasts, adding that the device "improves virtually any wine in less than 30 minutes. ... Replace the cork with the Sommeliers' top and place the bottle of wine on the stand. In 30 minutes a remarkable change occurs due to the strong magnetic field created by The Perfect Sommelier. All wines will age and exhibit the same aging effect as in being 'cellared' for years ..." It sells for $50 to $60, depending on whether you prefer matte black, "executive chrome" or "premier gold."
The Wine Enhancer (http://www.lifeforceenhancements.com/) may be the cheekiest of the bunch. Selling for a cool $149, it's a veritable objet d'art, a large, heavy epoxy disc with colorful crystals and a coppery coil embedded inside. "Not only does it soften tannins and open up young wines," claims entrepreneur Robert Catania, "but it eliminates red wine headaches!" Better still, Catania says, it avoids the magnetism and "harmful electrical currents" of its competitors in favor of "natural sustainable energy" brought about by "a perfect combination of 11 carefully selected semi-precious gems and minerals ... a unique combination of technologies, tapping into natural energy sources that exists within our atmosphere (as discovered and well researched by Nicola Tesla and Wilhelm Reich). The enhancer collects, amplifies and then broadcasts these life supporting energies in perfect coherence."
Uh ... oh-kay! After an extended E-mail correspondence, Mr. Catania talked me into trying a Wine Enhancer for myself. I duly set up a double-blind tasting for a group of local sommeliers, comparing treated and untreated glasses of wines in unmarked glasses, revealing the identity of the treated glass only after the scores were in. I tried it again with other groups, and at home, repeatedly, always tasting "blind." The results were never better (or worse) than random, suggesting that the device has no effect on wine at all. Non-intrusive analysis of the admittedly attractive disc revealed no hidden mysteries within, and variations on testing - including leaving wine to "charge" for extended periods - made no difference. The thing did nothing to effect the wine in any way. Similar tests by myself and others with the other products, including a rather hilarious "offline" session in NYC with a group of our forum members and the inventor of the Wine Cellar Express, showed consistently similar results: Zero, zip, nothing, nada.
None of this seems to deter the various manufacturers from mustering awed "It really works!" testimonials from some big-name wine experts. I remain un-persuaded, except insofar as this demonstrates that the placebo effect is alive and well.
My candid advice, if you're thinking about buying one of these things for yourself or a gift recipient this holiday season: Think twice. Think three or four times if you need to. Then save your money for something more useful. Or come see me ... I have a piece of bridge property in New York that I'll be happy to sell you.
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Panarroz 2004 Jumilla ($8.99)
This hearty, inexpensive red comes from Jumilla, in the Murcia area of southeastern Spain. It's a blend of Monastrell (Spanish for Mourvedre), Syrah and Grenache, plus some Tempranillo in the 2004 edition. It's an opaque, blackish-purple wine with a day-glo violet edge. Intense red-berry fruit adds attractive earthy notes on the nose and palate. Deep fruit and fragrant pepper in the flavor, backed by fresh acidity and smooth tannins; robust 14 percent alcohol adds warmth. It's big and brawny if a bit simple, but fruit and balance make it a value winner. U. S. importer: Hand Picked Selections, Warrenton, Va. (Nov. 21, 2005).
FOOD MATCH: Its powerful mix of bold fruit and alcoholic strength make it a natural for hearty beef and even game dishes; I matched it with an obscure but delicious Iranian beef stew, abgousht, using a recipe from Louisville's fine Persian restaurant, Saffron's.
VALUE: A fine value at this low-end price, and it's widely available on the Web for even less.
WHEN TO DRINK: Not a cellar candidate, but I think it will easily outrun the importer's suggestion that it be drunk up over the next year or so.
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The Holidays Are Easy ... with The California Wine Club!
A gift membership from The California Wine Club is as unique a gift as the person receiving it! Whether for one month, two months or even 12, your gift recipients will delight in receiving award-winning wine from California's best boutique wineries. Every wine comes from a real working family-owned winery and every wine is 100 percent guaranteed.
Each month includes two bottles of excellent tasting wine plus an informative 12-page magazine, Uncorked. Just $32.95/month plus shipping. Send as many months as you choose or take advantage of special discounts on gifts of 3, 6, 9 and 12 months.
This holiday season give the gift of good taste, with The California Wine Club. Let us handle all the details! To order, please call 1-800-777-4443 or visit
Wine Grape Varietal Table: The season's top wine gift
Back for another holiday season, Steve and Deborah De Long's Wine Grape Varietal Table is one of the most innovative wine-education products on the market. This bright, useful display unveils a world of wine grape varieties on an oversize wall chart that makes a perfect addition to your library or wine room ... or, for those in the business, an eye-catching attention-getter on the wall of your wine shop.
This quality fine-art poster - accompanied with a densely-packed, informative pocket-size book - displays nearly 200 wine-grape varieties in a format that should draw a nostalgic "Yeah!" from anyone who's ever sat in a high-school or college chemistry classroom: It is modeled after the classic periodic table of the elements.
Boxed in a large, sturdy cardboard container, ready for gift-wrapping, this set would make a good gift for any wine enthusiast on your list; and if your recipient (even yourself) qualifies as a true wine "geek," then he's just got to have it. Wine accessories don't get any more geeky than this ... and that's a compliment.
To purchase today, click
This week on WineLoversPage.com
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Turkey Day wines (Nov. 25, 2005)
Thanksgiving decisions (Nov. 23, 2005)
Santa's wish list - Wine books (Nov. 21, 2005)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Blow-dry duck (Nov. 24, 2005)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Nov. 28, 2005