Monday, September 19, 2005

Find out if you have a good bottle of wine... Without uncorking!

One of the most sophisticated pieces of wine technology ever developed -- indeed, quite possibly the future of wine -- is housed in the cellar of a restaurant just outside this tiny town in one of New Jersey's most remote and rural parts.

Gene Mulvihill, the man who built the restaurant, called Latour, and the resort that surrounds it, called Crystal Springs, is serious about wine. The wine list is a virtual who's who of the greatest bottles of the 20th century, and even the 19th. All of the top Bordeaux chateaux are represented -- not in two or three vintages, but 10 or 20 or more.

There are 20 vintages of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild going back to 1949; 20 vintages of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, including the iconic 1945; and, most impressive of all, 38 vintages of Chateau Latour -- the restaurant's namesake -- going back to 1888. (The price for the last: $6,697 a bottle.)

The list is just as deep when it comes to the so-called "cult" cabernets from California.

Befitting such a spectacular collection, the bottles are housed a full two floors underground in an opulently decorated cellar.

But none of it prepares you for the space-age contraption that sits in a utility room at one end of the cellar.

The wine scanner, as Mulvihill calls it, is about the size of a garbage can, perched a few feet off the floor on a metal stand. It is connected to a laptop computer that, in turn, is hooked up to a projector aimed at a white wall. With a few strokes of the keyboard, a narrow cylinder rises slowly out of the center of the stainless steel machine.

It looks like the kind of thing the evil-doers in a James Bond movie would use to hold the world hostage; except instead of a radioactive element, the cylinder holds an upside down bottle of wine.

It's what surrounds the cylinder, however, that makes Mulvihill's instrument unique: a powerful magnet. The wine scanner, it turns out, is a type of nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer -- essentially, an MRI for wine.

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