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The vinicultural powers of crystals, the correlation between fast cars and fine wine, and a wine-loving dog

Posted: August 31, 2005

• Yes, it was fun to ridicule the girl down the hall in college who wore black, burned incense and swore by the healing power of crystals. But how would you feel if it turned out she was right about magic and the strange forces of the universe? That's how we felt when the Wine Enhancer--a heavy, funky-looking resin coaster containing about a dozen different metals, crystals and stones--arrived in the mail. Its creator, Robert Catania, a hotel and restaurant owner in Sandwich, Mass., claims that the device helps soften the tannins and lift the aromas of red wine by simply having the bottle placed on it for 10 minutes. "It's energetically bringing in a combination of Orgone energy, zero-point energy and then the frequencies of the crystals and the gemstones. And the enhancers tweak that energy as it comes in," Catania claims. Yes, it sounds crazy--as if putting a cup of coffee on your mouse pad rather than directly on your desk will make it taste different. But we conducted several blind tastings with different wines and different tasters, comparing a control glass with a glass poured from the bottle after it was placed on the Enhancer. In each case, there was a slight but obvious difference, with the tannins in the "Enhanced" wine being softer (much to the skeptics' chagrin). Was the wine actually better? Some thought so, some didn't. And be warned: hour-plus "charging" on the Enhancer basically turned the wine to mud. Of course, as they say in product legalese, your results may vary. Only one thing is guaranteed: with its $149 price and unusual appearance, the Enhancer is definitely a conversation piece.

• Here's a survey result with a twist: When 500 people were asked what invention of the past 20 years has proven most useful for performing an otherwise difficult task, the "winged" corkscrew came in first. In the poll by British consulting firm User Vision, the corkscrew narrowly beat out disposable diapers for the top spot, followed by remote controls, electric locks on car doors and gas barbecues. Computers and cell phones didn't even make the top 10, while on the other end, automated call centers and "pay-at-the-pump" gas stations topped the list of least useful inventions. User Vision director Chris Rourke says he wasn't surprised by the results: "These seemingly small and simple innovations, which we take for granted, ultimately make life a lot easier." When it comes to the corkscrew, we couldn't agree more.

The crowd at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway is as likely to be cracking open a Cabernet as a Coors.
• Unfiltered has noticed a growing correlation between fast cars and fine wine. Lewis Cellars proprietor Randy Lewis is a former Indy driver. Adobe Road winery is owned by endurance racer Kevin Buckler. Bennett Lane founder Randy Lynch has his own NASCAR team, as does Richard Childress, who recently started his own winery in North Carolina. So we just had to be at the Indy Racing League's first open-road course event at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, the new, uh, intersection of wine and cars. You never know; in a couple of years, we could be begging to be on racing sensation Danica Patrick's mailing list. (Although we did come within a few feet of Danica, we never did get to ask her about her favorite wine or her stance on corks vs. screw caps.) We did spot racing legend and winery owner Mario Andretti, who happily congratulated his 18-year-old grandson Marco Andretti for winning the Menards Infinity Pro Series. And we couldn't help noticing IRL points leader Dan Wheldon's Jim Beam car. The Bourbon label is owned by Fortune Brands, which owns Clos du Bois, Geyser Peak and Wild Horse wineries, so Wheldon could trade up for a winery car one of these days. Unfiltered also ran into racing fan and Schrader Cellars owner Fred Schrader down in the pits, who gave us a tip on where to stand for the "Start your engines" call. And we thought wine tastings could get noisy!

• Any Burgundy freaks with $2,000 burning a hole in their pocket might want to be in San Francisco on Sept. 17 for the fifth annual A Taste for Life. The charity event (www.atasteforlife.net), which benefits the Diabetic Youth Foundation, lines up several dream teams of wine. This year, 2 grand lands a tasting of eight heart-pounding Burgundies, including the Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux 1999, DRC Grands Échézeaux 1978, Romanée Conti 1959, La Tâche 1942 and Dr. Barolet Corton 1934. Afterward comes a four-course dinner prepared by chef Michael Mina and accompanied by wines such as Château d'Yquem 1993. If $2,000 represents a tad too much discretionary income, no one will be slumming at the other, sub-$1,000 tables, such as the one featuring 2001 Napa reds, including Screaming Eagle, Colgin Cariad and Sloan. Unfortunately for those enophiles for whom money is no object, the top table, "A Century of Rare Bordeaux," has sold out at $5,500 a seat. The wine list is still in the works, but last year's menu included the 1900 Margaux, 1945 Mouton and 1947 Cheval-Blanc, and plenty of people were willing to spring for a chance at a similar lineup. Hey, you snooze, you lose.

• Over and over you've heard it: Low yields equal high quality. Vintners tout their rigorous pruning and green harvesting as a way of developing fully ripe flavors--and of justifying the $50-and-up prices for their Cabernets. But it doesn't have to be this way, claims Mark Matthews, a plant biologist in UC, Davis' viticulture department. Turning conventional wisdom on its head, his recent research, published in American Vineyard, found that Cabernet crops could be doubled without hurting quality. Matthews conducted a series of tastings with trained wine judges and found that wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon vines pruned to have 36 buds instead of the more standard 18 exhibited more fruity aromas and no diminished flavor. While he's planning new experiments with finicky Pinot Noir, he's encouraging growers and wineries to conduct their own vineyard trials. Whether the idea is embraced remains to be seen: While many growers get paid by the ton and would be happy to bring in larger crops, it's still true that the fewer the grapes, the higher the prices. And while such a practice might help vintners with their costs, we wouldn't hold our breath for lower prices on top-notch Cabernets just yet.

• Some voters might think there's cause for concern when their representative has 5,000 gallons of wine in his backyard. But not in the case of Minnesota state Sen. LeRoy Stumpf (D); he and his wife, Carol, recently opened Two Fools Vineyard and Winery on their farm in Plummer. No, the one to worry about is the Stumpf family dog, Scooter, an 8-year-old golden Labrador. "We were pressing grapes last year, and the pulp left over I loaded up on a trailer, and I didn't know what to do with it," Stumpf says. "We live out in the country, and have lots of deer out here, so I thought, I'll just haul this out into the woods and let the deer eat it." But the one who found the fermenting pile of grape skins was Scooter. "She could hardly stand up she was so dizzy. She was a happy dog. She had a big smile on her face, but she was totally out of control," recalls Stumpf. Scooter is now hooked, and nibbles on any low-hanging grapes she can find when she's out in the vineyard. Stumpf is just hoping that all the tasting-room visitors will be equally enamored.

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