Even if wine isn't sold before its time, one taste often sends shudders through a connoisseur who realizes it had still passed its prime.
A wine aged to perfection can be tainted by a problem as old as the tradition of wine making itself. But a local chemist has used his scientific expertise to design a solution to cork taint, which is caused when chlorine used to disinfect cork comes into contact with chemicals in wine.
Mike Havelka, president of the Sewickley-based Vinterus Technologies LLC, drew upon his passion for wine and his knowledge of chemistry to create Wine Rescue. The filtration product does just as its name implies by literally rescuing wine that has been adversely impacted by the musty odor and bitter taste of cork taint.
Havelka said taint can result when chlorine used in the disinfection process comes into contact with chemicals in wine, producing a compound known as trichloranisole. He said the problem, which is not confined to corks, can also be present in wine cellars, barrels, wooden pallets and equipment used in the wine-making process, as well as in wine bottled with metal caps and other types of beverages. Therefore, a more appropriate name for the problem might be TCA taint or contamination.
Wine connoisseurs and leaders in the hospitality industry are more concerned about how to address the problem than determining where it originated. Some appear eager to learn more about the new invention.
"Wine Rescue is the first product that I have heard about to treat the issue of cork taint," said Kevin Joyce, proprietor of the Carlton Restaurant. "This type of technology is important because TCA has been estimated to affect 2 to 5 percent of bottled wines. While I suspect the actual numbers are less than that, the fact remains that you can have 24.5 ounces of wonderful and expensive product that is ruined because there is a hint of chlorine in the cork that goes into the bottle."
Many operators simply absorb the financial loss by dumping a bottle of wine down the drain once it has been labeled "bad" or "corked" by a patron. Wine Rescue would allow operators to treat and save the wine, instead of throwing it away.
'Everyone knows we have a problem'
Havelka said the Wine Rescue bottle-top pump removes TCA particles, yet preserves the taste and color components that give wine its character. The internal pump injects air into the bottle, pushing the wine up a dip tube and through an activated carbon filter disk.
Wine Rescue uses technology called Thin Layer Adsorption, not to be confused with absorption. In this process, the activated carbon disk captures various compounds, such as TCA, by getting them to adhere to its surface, while permitting the wine to be filtered. A leak-proof seal allows the filtered wine to be dispensed into a decanter.
"Ensuring that the TCA is removed while letting the important flavor components pass through is key to acceptance of the product by the wine industry," said Havelka. "Essentially, we are removing one chemical from a substance made up of hundreds or thousands of chemicals.
Removing five parts per trillion of TCA in a bottle of wine is analogous to removing a tear from an Olympic-sized swimming pool."
Mike Gonze, president of Dreadnought Imports Ltd., has never heard of a product such as Wine Rescue during his more than two decades in the business.
"There has been a lot of conversation in the industry about cork taint, especially during the past four conferences of the Society of Wine Educators (based in Washington, D.C.)," said Gonze. "Everyone knows we have a problem, but nobody knows how to deal with it other than using screw caps specifically designed for wine bottles."
Coated metal screw caps and synthetic corks have been embraced by wine makers in New Zealand and Australia, but the new closures have not gained widespread acceptance in the United States.
"As cork taint becomes more prevalent, we need to address the issue," said Gonze. "However, I don't anticipate everyone switching to the new closures."
Wine Rescue, expected to be on the market in June, will be available from online retailers, kitchen and gourmet product stores and also at the Web site at www.winerescue.com.
A Wine Rescue unit will cost approximately $200 with replacement filters costing about $5 each.