Does wine actually taste differently when aged underwater as opposed to land?
That’s the question asked by Mira Winery, a relatively new Napa startup. Owner Jim “Bear” Dyke and winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez became intrigued with how much influence the aging environment asserts on the taste of wine. They submerged four cases of their 2009 Cabernet in Charleston Harbor for three months, at a depth a 60 feet. The two men recently conducted a series of tastings around the country, comparing the land-aged wine to the ocean-aged wine, and their travels took them to Palm Beach.
The two samples of 2009 Mira Cabernet were tasted blind, and participants were asked to compare them and guess which was which. I don’t mind admitting that I mixed them up, since I wasn’t alone. Roughly half the tasters felt that the more tannic, disjointed wine was the land-based wine, while the smother one had been submerged in the ocean. It turned out to be the reverse. Interestingly, everyone in the room perceived a distinct difference between the two.
There were a few things about Mira’s experiment that weren’t precise. For one thing, the wine had already been in bottle for two years before the test was conducted. For another, temperatures during the three-month period were widely divergent: the land-based wine was kept at a constant 56 degrees, while temperature for the ocean-aged wine rose as high as 70 when the harbor warmed up. And although Mira is reaping a great deal of publicity from the exercise (witness this blog post), they are sincere about investigating the larger question of how and why wine ages, and plan on repeating the experiment again.
You’re not likely to sample the ocean-aged wine anytime soon. Mira released a limited number of gifts sets at $500 (consisting of one bottle of each), and competition among collectors has been fierce. Their next trial will double the amount of ocean-aged wine to eight cases. In the meantime, you’ll have to wait—unless you’re a scuba diver.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); his second book, Moonshine Nation, is forthcoming from Lyons Press in June 2014. For more information, go to amazon.com