As wine has gone mainstream, bright ideas for accompanying gadgets have cropped up all over the place. Some, like the vacuum sealer pump, wine filters/funnels and many decanters, are great additions. Some, however, go from the ridiculous to the sublime. Below, I’ve created a list that follows that scale. These five wine gadgets should go off your wish list immediately due to their uselessness, and in some cases just plain stupid designs.
The Ridiculous:Glasses that break when you look at them
I love delicate crystal wine glasses. They’re pretty to look at and they make the wine taste a lot better than thick glasses by letting the stuff flow unimpeded into your mouth. What I think is ridiculous, however, are the paper thin, very expensive glasses. I’ll use my own story to illustrate.
When I first got into wine my dad bought me a set of six of these $40-a-pop glasses. I had them for about six months before I broke the first one. I must have offended it in some way because it seemed to break when I picked it up. It was a tragedy and I swore I would be more careful.
Shortly after that, every use became like a Jewish wedding. Every time I cleaned a glass by applying fairly mild pressure and some very hot water, the glass shattered. Despite care and caution, within four months they were all hosed. I vowed never to buy them again. They were too thin and delicate to be hand washed – which is what you should do with them – and they weren’t safe for the dishwasher.
If you aren’t able to use glassware because it’s so thin that it may break every time you touch it, pour wine into it, clean it, or look at it … why own it? For me, the slightly thicker, dishwasher safe versions are far heartier and more enjoyable for use
Wine chillers that don’t chill
Electric or instant wine chillers seem like fabulous gadgets. Your wine is warmer or cooler than you want? Stick it in a machine or pour it through a spout and voilá! It’s the perfect temperature. I love the concept. I loved it so much that I registered for a double chiller for my wedding. But then I used it.
Serving temperature can be a confusing thing, and this device claims to simplify that problem by allowing you to program in the type of wine you’re having. It then adjusts the wine to the right serving temperature.
What makes this a useless gadget is that it doesn’t actually work. In any format. Single wine chiller. Double wine chiller. Pour it through and get instant chill. In whatever incarnation you like, you have to wait a long time for results and even after 30 minutes, it doesn’t do the job. And by the way, if it takes forever to work, there’s a thing called an ice bucket that you can fill with ice water. That will take a brief eight minutes. Oh, and there’s always the freezer if you have a little more time. Better than the 30 minutes it took for my double chiller not to do the job.
When conventional methods work, there’s no reason to shell out $40 to $250 for something this lame.
The wine clip
Although the chiller is dumb in execution, there is a rhyme and reason behind it. This, however, is where we move from ridiculous and inch towards the sublime.
If you haven’t heard of the wine clip, it claims to use magnets to make wine smell and taste better, and to make mouth-drying tannins smoother. The device says it converts the wine using the idea that “passing a conductive fluid through a properly designed magnetic field has an effect on the polar molecules in the fluid.” Clip this baby onto the neck of your bottle and bam! You’ve got a delectable wine.
Sounds good, right? And $40 seems like a small price to pay for such a wine miracle.
The only problem: like those magnetic bracelets that claim to alleviate pain, there is no scientific proof that the level of magnetization in this device does anything to wine. Although the placebo effect could take hold, and people could convince themselves that there is a big change in the flavor, it’s all a sham. This is like buying a lava lamp – pretty, with no function.
If you want better aromas and less tannic wine, either stick the stuff in a decanter for an hour or buy a different wine that is less tannic and more aromatic!
Aerators: the wine gadget that works a little too well
Probably the most controversial on this list is the ubiquitous aerator. Again, for around $40 (although they can run for a lot more), you’re promised better aroma and less tannic wine. This device makes decanting a wine defunct; it claims to do in seconds what a decanter does in an hour or more.
Unlike the wine clip or chiller, this product works. It aerates wine. And quickly. By rapidly introducing air into a glass, it does a great job of getting rid of the volatile compounds that are in wine. What are those? They are the things that can cause wine to be a little sulfur-like right out of the bottle (but will dissolve in a few minutes with swirling), or smell a little earthy or spicy.
The aerator made the list because it works too well; it strips flavors right out of the glass and homogenizes the wine.
My husband and I did a grand experiment with an aerator we received as a gift. We decanted half a bottle of wine from Bordeaux, a wine that has a really strong earthiness to it. We then took the other half of the bottle and ran it through the aerator. Instantly there was a difference between the wines – the decanted wine started to taste better with a little air, although not dramatically different. The aerated wine tasted very smooth, but lacked character. Never to let sleeping dogs lie, we continued running the wine through the aerator. By the fifth time, what was in the glass was a different wine from the original. By the 15th, the wine had no sense of place at all and was just a boring red wine. The decanted wine, on the other hand, still had earthy flavors and nice tannin.
Phallic and other weird-shaped decanters
I love decanters. I think they’re great. I’ve mentioned them several times already. They’re a worthy investment if you have some extra money to spend (letting the wine sit in a regular wine glass works just as well if you don’t, by the way).
But things have gone very far in the name of trying to create extra pockets of aeration. At a recent wine event, I saw one of the world’s 200 or so Master Sommeliers, a man I greatly admire, pouring wine out of what appeared to be a glass replica of the male reproductive organ. It was the latest product by Riedel and I have to assume that whomever designed it is having a great laugh at the expense of anyone who is foolish enough to buy this and pour from it. It’s obscene. I’ve seen other ridiculous shapes that wouldn’t decant any better than a basic carafe – ones that look like branches or ducks, and those seem kitschy, but nothing beats the big phallus. Unless you’re thinking about a gag gift, this is an epic fail.