The Oak Bottle

Turn your cheap wines into not-so-cheap wines using this speed-ageing device

The context

This product falls squarely in the continuum of all those glasses, decanters, wine fridges, and other accoutrements that claim to improve the drinking experience. Can a container improve the contents is the question?

The trend, I suppose, goes all the way back to when pottery was invented. Or when humans began eating food, not just by picking them off trees or tearing them off a roasting spit over a fire, but by using plates and later cutlery—or in India’s case, katoris—to improve the dining experience.

Today, companies such as Riedel and Schott Zwiesel spent copious amounts of money, trying to convince consumers that the flavour and fragrance of wines will improve when drunk from crystal glasses that cost over $100. It would be simple to dismiss this as marketing drivel. The complication is that it works—after a fashion. Let me explain.

My wine club once organized a tasting where a marketing man in a smart suit took us through a Riedel wine glass tasting. The conceit was that a Chardonnay would taste better when drunk from a glass crafted for white wines; that a Merlot would taste better in a red wine glass. Some glasses indeed brought out hidden flavours and fragrances. Were they better? Depends.

The fantasy

Sitting by the fire with a cigar in tow, sipping a glass of oak-aged spirit—feet up in padded slippers by the fire, reading Shakespeare or Sidney Sheldon—the man (and master) of the house, undisturbed in perpetuity.

Oak aging is the holy grail of wine and spirits. As trends go, it is right up there along with small, customized portions of organic gluten-free dishes that are grown by happy farmers who dance around their crops, singing uplifting tunes. Today, oaked spirits, wines and cocktails are served in London’s trendiest restaurants.

Why do winemakers age their wines in oak? Because the container matters; because the oak casks improve the wine. Why do biryanis taste better when sealed in a clay pot? Because the container improves the contents.

The reality

The good news: the number of wines becoming available in India is multiplying like, well, vines.

The bad news: much of these wines are bottled plonk. They are too tannic or too acidic; two sweet or too sour; too flabby or too edgy. Not balanced enough.

The worst part is that we have to pay three times as much for wines that cost a couple of pounds in the UK, with Yellow Tail shiraz being the classic example.

What’s an Indian consumer to do? You go abroad, buy in bulk and bring back. You beg friends to bring back any wine or spirit and promise to reimburse them. You befriend the local bootlegger and have him on speed dial. Or you buy an oak cask and age your own wines. After all, our aunties are known to make and mull wines for Christmas. Why not age the average wine as well?

The product

It is just an oak bottle really. You pour your wine or spirit of choice into it for a few hours and pour out into a glass. That’s it. The idea is that the oak bottle will “age" your Johnnie Walker Red Label and turn it into the equivalent of a Black Label. Ditto with wine. Starter wines from Indian labels that retail for about Rs600 will taste better than a $30 bottle. That is the promise and, to a certain extent, it works.

Most Indian wines are like unruly teenagers: all angles and edges with too much tannin or acid or fruit. The oak bottle softens these edges and makes them rounder so that they emerge—like Sophia Loren—as a more mature version of what went in.

Don’t keep the wine in the oak bottle for too long. I kept a KRSMA Sangiovese in the bottle for 36 hours and it converted what was once an edgy wine into an overoaked plonker.

The details

Oakbottle.com.

Micro-sized bottle for $39.95.

Mini for $59.95.

The Oak Bottle for $79.95.

The verdict

The bottle alters the taste of your wine or spirit. Does it make the taste better? Sometimes. Think of it like a decanter. Another factor is whether you have enough of a palate to recognize the difference. Sometimes the differences are so subtle as to be unrecognizable.

The micro and mini options work better than the larger oak bottle because more of the liquid is exposed to oak. In this case, smaller (and cheaper) is better than the larger, more expensive version.

Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com

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