Wine has been around for a long time. Like, a really long time - if the archaeological community has got it right, then we’ve been necking vino for tens of thousands of years, and it has been a constant and faithful companion to mankind, while empires rose and fell.
The most fascinating thing about that? Over all that time, wine hasn’t changed very much at all; it’s still fundamentally just fermented wine juice, helped along by the tannins and acids held in the fruit’s skins and seeds.
Of course, while the product may have stayed more or less the same since time immemorial, the technology which surrounds wine has evolved and changed considerably, and never more so than throughout the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st.
Today, wineries process their grapes using cutting-edge, state-of-the-art machinery, designed to eke out the very best of the grapes’ potential and ensure a more refined, palatable product than that which was probably drunk by our ancestors.
This rush of new technology has also inspired something of a backlash, too. One of the most interesting things about wine at the moment is the rather romantic return we’ve seen (more so in Australia than elsewhere in the world) to more traditional, hand-crafted styles of winemaking. Organic and Biodynamic wineries are booming, and consumers are more interested than ever before in buying wines with natural, no-fuss, low-intervention credentials.
Whether this ends up being the new normal in the wine industry, or just a passing fad, is yet to be seen… but it’s a great example of how the industry is still exploring different ways of expressing flavour, aroma and character after many, many millennia.
For all its changes, dynamism and fascinating features, there are some winemakers and wine drinkers out there (and I’m looking at the French, right now) who seem to want all this evolution and movement to stop.
In fact, it sometimes seems as though they want winemaking to go back to some imaginary point in the past, when wine was made according to traditional (French) principles, using only a handful of permitted grape varietals, and when experimentation in viticulture was unheard of.
Our opinion! ...There's room in the world for both traditional and forward-thinking approaches to winemaking, both of which have their merits.
In that spirit, we should celebrate some of the recent innovations which have moved the world of wine forwards, the inventions which keep us on our toes, and the pioneers who are seeking out new ways to keep vino marching on in the 21st century.
A quick google search for ‘wine inventions’ reveals some pretty odd things (there’s a ‘wine bra’, for example, which allows you to sneak alcohol into concerts, meetings, parent-teacher evenings, etc) which are kinda cool in their own right, but we’re here for the innovations which are changing the way we drink, make and enjoy wine.
Read on, and see for yourself!
Breathing new life into wine
One of the big innovations in recent years in the winemaking world has been the implementation of micro-oxygenation. This process, known as ‘mox’ to its friends and family, has been a massive boon to lots of winemakers across the globe, as it takes away some of the risk that comes with ageing wine in more traditional methods (although it’s not totally risk-free itself), and gives the vintner a lot more control over how their wine turns out.
The idea is a relatively simple one: tannic red wines are usually cellared in a bottle, sealed with a cork. As cork is porous, it allows tiny amounts of oxygen to permeate over long periods of time, and this oxygen ‘softens’ the tannins, and allows the subtleties of the wine to reveal themselves.
Micro-oxygenation allows the winemaker to mimic this process in the winery, by adding small amounts of oxygen to the wine as it is being made. The results are impressive: otherwise highly tannic and astringent wines appear softer, smoother and more open, colours become stabilised, and certain reductive, slightly stinky notes present in some wines are considerably lessened.
Micro-oxygenation gives smaller, newer, less established wineries the opportunity to make wines which have similar characteristics to well aged, highly sought after wines… and that’s an exciting prospect indeed!
It’s a little bit weird that screw cap wines are still seen in some countries as in some way inferior (again, I’m looking at the French…), as their merits have been proven time and time again. In Australia, we’ve become really accustomed to opening our wines without the use of a corkscrew, and it’s really, really easy to see why (once you’ve gotten over any pretensions about tradition) they took off in such a big way down here.
Screw caps are, first and foremost, really easy to open. Have you ever wrestled with a cork, only to have it break in half before you get it out? It’s easily one of the most disheartening, crushingly annoying things that can happen to anyone, ever.
Screw cap wines won’t suffer from cork taint, otherwise known as TCA, which makes wine smell and taste like a wet labrador… and nobody wants to drink wet labrador.
Your wine will always reach you in premium condition, just as the winemaker intended. On top of that, screw cap wines have even been proven to age reliably and consistently… which really can’t be said of corked wines.
Furthermore, if the wine industry is nowadays claiming to be environmentally conscious, with every winery now going to great lengths to brag about their sustainable credentials… why are so many of them relying on unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly cork for their bottles?
Goon for good?
When I was younger, if you caught a waiter or barman sneakily pouring your glass of wine from a cask, you’d have every right to be a bit annoyed. They were associated primarily with cheap rubbish (I still remember the taste of my dad’s nasty wine in cask Chenin Blanc he took with us on camping holidays), and eventually, they completely fell out of favour.
However, the bag in box wines’(as it's known overseas) fortunes are changing. Once people realised it was perfectly possible to store really high-quality wine in a box, and save money doing so, several top wine bars and restaurants around the world (not in France, obviously) started making use of them.
In many ways, they’re great: environmentally friendly, really easy to store, ideal for keeping wine fresh for longer… the bag in a box revolution is well underway. Most importantly, they do away completely with the question ‘is it worth opening another bottle…?’
Making fuel from wine
As mentioned, sustainability and environmental friendliness and consciousness is key to 21st-century viticulture. Wineries, just like all other agricultural businesses, have a huge responsibility to the land they work with, and intensive farming, overuse of chemicals, and irresponsible farming methods are all recipes for disaster when it comes to preserving terroirs for future generations.
It’s pleasing to see so many wine companies upping their game in this respect. One of the major developments in the wine industry in recent years has been the use of grape pomace (the dust and slime left over once all the good stuff has been extracted from the fruit) in biofuels.
There’s a hell of a lot of grape pomace in the world - 100,000 tonnes per year in California alone - so it’s good to see it being put to good use. The process sees the pomace broken down by microbes into water and hydrogen, and this gas is converted into energy which can be used by the local region.
Insects and wine
Yes, insects and wine are the new frontier for sommeliers to get their heads (and mouths) around. Many environmentalists reckon we’ll be needing bugs in our diet in the near future, so why not select some great wine pairings now to prepare our palates? Apparently, mealworms - with their nutty flavour and crunchy texture - go really well with Viognier, and scorpions are a great pairing for Pinot Noir.
Last on our list is an item connected to a recent trend in the restaurant industry, which is seeing more use of technology in fine dining, to create multi-sensory experiences.
Again, this is somewhat at odds with the traditions of French gastronomy, although the Michelin guide has awarded several stars to both The Fat Duck and Ibiza’s Sublimotion, both of which are renowned for their use of sound, light, music and flavour combined.
Renowned Champagne house G.H Mumm have released a bottle of Champagne which is ‘digitally integrated’, and can connect to your entertainment system. When the cork is popped, a signal is sent to your sound system, and the party is digitally triggered. Sounds like fun, but we can’t see it catching on...
All these fascinating manners of innovation in the world of wine surely deserve a toast! But before you crack open a bottle and start celebrating, why not try our palate profile quiz below and we'll tell you the top wines that match your personal sense of taste? #####Click here: to take our Wine Palate Quiz and match your personal tastes to the three bottles we think you'll love most.