MADRID -- “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
Hemingway may have been from Illinois, but he sure lived the life of a Spaniard. Spanish history, art and literature are drenched in vino. Two centuries before the common era, Phoenicians started cultivating wine in the south of modern-day Spain. The country's climate makes it perfect for cultivating sweet, strong wines, and for the last two thousand years, it has been one of the Iberian Peninsula's major exports. With a history this ancient, there's no doubt that the vines of tradition are deeply rooted in this country that so often seems reticent to put modernization ahead of tradition.
That doesn't mean folks aren't trying. There are dozens of bodegas (wineries), start-ups and even big wine conglomerates looking to bottle and market their research and design. SmartPlanet talks to just a few of these vino innovators.
The forever-chilled white wine
Vino tinto (red) should be served at room temperature, while vino blanco (white) must be chilled. These are the greatest commandments of sommeliers. But, how is it possible to keep that Riesling, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc at the optimal cool temp, without getting ice water all over your fine dress?
Javi Crespo used Verdejo, one of Castilla y Leon's favorite whites, to create "Wine 3.0," a bottle that maintains the chilled temperature, so each glassful has the same qualities. The design turns a completely usual glass wine bottle into the unusual by covering it in an ultra-thin aluminum capsule, about one millimeter thick. "Each piece is tight against the bottle," Crespo says. "It perfectly molds to the bottle. You cannot take it apart."
Wine 3.0 was inspired by beer brands like Heineken that are altering their traditional bottles to meet the customer's desire for a cold brew. "In the refrigerator, the temperature [of the wine] gets colder and it keeps it cold still" outside the fridge, Crespo says. "You don't have to drink it quickly to keep it cold."
More than the functionality, he says, "the aesthetics are very curious." At the somewhat-pricey-for-Spain 20 euros a bottle, Crespo says it's for those who are looking to blend their "love of wine and their love of design." He sees his market mostly online, usually foreign, and says that Spaniards don't think of wine for its innovative properties, he says.
Crespo has developed this bottle through Herrero Bodega, which, in itself, is an innovator just by selling online, on a webpage with a name that translates to "Elaborate your wine." "This bodega is among the bodegas that are looking to change the direction of the industry," He says. "To buy this bottle is to have a wine with a more modern theme."
He and his company Start Design's next step is to create a perfectly-chilled water bottle of similar material, "to keep the water cold all day."
Oxygenating your wine, one sip at a time
As traditionally Spanish as wine is, the porrón de vino may be even more so. A porrón kind of looks like a glass vase with a removable stopper on top and another nose of a glass watering can jutting out to one side. You pour out of the bottle into the wider opening and the tilt the smaller spout to pour wine slowly -- from varying heights -- into your mouth. It allows the drinkers to control the amount the wine oxygenates, while being able to partake in the elixir of the gods in a fun party atmosphere. Whether they use it to serve wine or not, most Spanish homes at least have one porrón on display.
Inspired by the modern-day, continuous search for both convenience and space, Hector Serrano designed his Porrón Pompero. Made of Pyrex glass, this miniature, upside-down version is designed "to drink wine directly from the vessel," as it fits right on top of the bottle, like a cork.
"The old porrón didn't make sense because you were pouring the wine from the bottle directly through the vessel," Serrano says. His new way saves time, space and another breakable item that's tedious to clean. In order for "the evolution of the porrón to make sense [you must] make something that works well with the bottle," he says. "It fits like a cork and, from one side, you can drink directly from the bottle and, from the other side, you can pour from it like a decanter to oxygenate the wine." Since wine that has been uncorked and poured into a glass takes time to "breathe," the Porrón Pompero allows the wine to oxygenate almost instantaneously as it pours from undisclosed heights into tu boca. It also speeds up the process of decanting and oxygenating the wine sipped from a more conventional stemmed glasses. "You can drink directly from the bottle or pour directly into the glass," Serrano says, oxygenated and ready for drink right then.
Like the regular porrón, it takes practice to develop the skill, but it always makes for a fun wine-drinking experience. Unlike other wine innovators, he says that "the porrón is a very Spanish thing, so it might be more popular in Spain."
The re-invented cork
DIAM, a Spanish-French company, with its first factory in San Vicente de Alcantara, has revolutionized cork technology to guarantee your wine is preserved longer with a higher quality from the start.
Cork, being something from nature, tends to be irregular and unpredictable. For wine enthusiasts, cork taint is something that your sensitive nose can recognize through strange smells or tastes; but for you lay sippers, cork taint is when there's some sort of spoilage, changing the taste or smell of the wine, that you can only recognize after bottling and uncorking after the allotted period of time. In a nutshell, your wine tastes suspiciously like a wet dog or mildewed basement. From the two-euro bottle of Mercadona-brand Rioja to the coveted up-to-900-euro bottle of Pingus from Ribera del Duero, wine taint can plague all bottles the same. Taint isn't harmful; it's just gross.
The company set out to use modern technology to prevent this taint, as well as another problem us amateur vino connoisseurs often endure -- breaking chunks of cork off into the bottle. The result, called Diam, promises to be the wine equalizer, creating a world where cork never causes variation among bottles again.
The company uses "super-critical carbon dioxide" -- also used to make your coffee decaf and to purify your beer and whiskey -- which involves achieving a specific temperature at which CO2 has the properties of both a liquid and a solid. At this perfect level, it can use the CO2 to remove the trichloranisole (TSA) that is naturally in cork-wood and which most commonly causes taint, while also taking out 150 other naturally found compounds.
The process continues with closing and sealing off the now break-proof, taint-proof cork. Diam varies the way it compacts the cork to create a selection of oxygen-transmitting corks, so bodegas can uniformly control the amount of oxidation their wine will receive. The uniform size and shape also allows for easy, uniform corking and uncorking. Plus, as a bonus, it's completely biodegradable. (If you're not one of those who collect their corks in a big glass vase in the corner...)
Photos: StartDesign.com/LaMeditarreana.es; Thumbnail: Alejandra Franchina