Nathan Myrhvold Blends Fine Wine – In a Blender
Winemakers Fooled in Blind Tests, Choose His Blend as Best
His Well Equipped Inventiveness May Promise a Malaria Breakthrough
A current Times Talk features Times man Jeff Gordinier interviewing the bouncy billionaire Nathan Myhrvold, who made a fortune at Microsoft helping to pick the pockets of consumers by selling them Windows systems that reliably ruined the working hours of all who used them. Having given up his job as Microsoft CTO Myrhvold spent some of his ill gotten gains on an enormous kitchen where he investigated the science involved in cooking, which has won him a TED talk and wide renown for a multi volume book on his findings, Modernist Cuisine, published in a rather inconvenient format that only a computer executive could love, but still a dazzling encyclopaedia of real food science which has comprehensively cornered the market in this wonderful topic. A smaller book, Modernist Cuisine at Home, came out recently.
Be that as it may, one result he claims is of interest to those who have long been impressed by the fact that high priced wines seem to fail to win first place in blind taste tests far too often to believe that they are reliably better than cheaper ones. Judges ratings of any wines in competition have been shown to be very inconsistent. The tests often lack rigor in design, moreover.
In the last ten years Fred Franzia of the label Charles Shaw has confirmed this suspicion by turning the retail wine business upside down by mass manufacturing cheap wine in California, maturing it in vast vats as big as grain silos for as short a time as six weeks and then selling it for $3 a bottle (New York price, $2 “two buck chuck” elsewhere) to win connoisseurs in Manhattan through Trader Joe’s on 14th Street. Rival Whole Foods picked up on this opportunity and now sells its own $2 or 3 bottles of red and white which are equally good.
Now Myrhvold is appearing on stage at TED and at the Times telling one and all that even expensive wines can be improves dramatically by simply decanting them into a blender and pressing the button for a half minute or so. He claims to have embarrassed and excited a top Spanish winemaker with a demonstration and a blind test which had him on the phone to his vineyard manager asking what the heck is going on, since he had chosen the blended version of his wine over the untouched. Myrhvold wrote a piece for Business Week on the topic, How to Decant Wine with a Blender.
Wine lovers have known for centuries that decanting wine before serving it often improves its flavor. Whatever the dominant process, the traditional decanter is a rather pathetic tool to accomplish it. A few years ago, I found I could get much better results by using an ordinary kitchen blender. I just pour the wine in, frappé away at the highest power setting for 30 to 60 seconds, and then allow the froth to subside (which happens quickly) before serving. I call it “hyperdecanting.”
Although torturing an expensive wine in this way may cause sensitive oenophiles to avert their eyes, it almost invariably improves red wines—particularly younger ones, but even a 1982 Château Margaux. Don’t just take my word for it, try it yourself.
But set up a proper blind taste test to avoid subconscious bias among the tasters. That’s a bigger problem than you might imagine. Researchers who examined the voting records of wine judges found that 90 percent of the time they give inconsistent ratings to a particular wine when they judge it on multiple occasions.
To avoid bias, use a “triangle test,” which is a scientifically rigorous way to test for a perceptible difference between wine prepared two different ways. Get as many judges as you can—10 is the minimum to get good statistics. Give each judge three identical glasses, and label the glasses X, Y, and Z.
Hyperdecant half a bottle of wine, and save the other half of the bottle to use for comparison. Out of view of the judges, pour an ounce or so of wine into each glass. The undecanted wine should go into two of the glasses, the hyperdecanted wine into the third, or vice versa. Vary the order of presentation among the judges so that not all are tasting the hyperdecanted wine first or last. Record which wine goes into which glass, and have the judges guess which two of their wines are the same.
You’ll probably find that hyperdecanting does clearly change the flavor of the wine. To determine with scientific rigor whether your tasters prefer the hyperdecanted wine requires a more complex trial called a “paired preference” test, or “square” test. But a blind side-by-side comparison works passably well, too, and requires no math.
Myhrvold is the ex-chief technology officer of Microsoft, co-founder of Intellectual Ventures, and author of Modernist Cuisine.
A recent PBS NovaScienceNow hour with David Pogue featured Myrhvold talking of his findings in this field.
Myrhvold is an example to the rest of us with his relentless curiosity in so many fields, one must add. Here is his latest invention, a way to combat malaria:Could this laser zap malaria? – TED
His comments seem more timely than ever as the latest malaria vaccine trial (Malaria Vaccine Candidate Gives Disappointing Results
By Donald G. McNeil) has shown how difficult it is to develop a really effective vaccine for this deadly parasite, which excites only limited immunity by itself. The claim is that one third of infants less than a year old were successfully immunized:
Three shots of the vaccine, known as RTS, S or Mosquirix and produced by GlaxoSmithKline, gave babies fewer than 12 weeks old 31 percent protection against detectable malaria and 37 percent protection against severe malaria, according to an announcement by the company at a vaccines conference in Cape Town.
Last year, in a trial in children up to 17 months old, the same vaccine gave 55 percent protection against detectable malaria and 47 percent against severe malaria.
The new trial “is less than we’d hoped for,” Moncef Slaoui, chairman of research and development at Glaxo, said in a telephone interview. “But if a million babies were vaccinated, we would prevent 260,000 cases of malaria a year. This is a disease that kills 655,000 babies a year — 31 percent of that is a very large number.”…
Like an H.I.V. vaccine, one against malaria has proved an elusive goal. The parasite morphs several times, exhibiting different surface proteins as it goes from mosquito saliva into blood and then into and out of the liver. Also, even the best natural “vaccine” — catching the disease itself — is not very effective. While one bout of measles immunizes a child for life, it usually takes several bouts of malaria to confer even partial immunity. Pregnancy can cause women to stop being immune, and immunity can fade out if someone moves away from a malarial area — presumably because they no longer get “boosters” from repeated mosquito bites.
Of course, HIV is another kettle of fish altogether, since it confers 100% immunity all by itself. Apparently Donald McNeil is unaware of this fact, or has been confused by NIAID propaganda peddled with the incomparably inventive Dr Anthony Fauci at the helm.
The truth, of course, is that anyone suckered into an HIV test who comes out positive should remember that means he/she is full of antibodies, and even if you choose to believe HIV causes any trouble to any body, which good science firmly denies, you are therefore immune to it, if you contained any of it, which you don’t.
A positive HIV test is the most positive thing you could possibly score, and you should be very happy about it – except for the fact that a grotesque superstition fills the world and will make you the subject of a witch hunt, a lynch mob and crowd fear and disgust.