BORDEAUX, France – It tastes like rose petals. It smells like a campfire. It shines with a burnt orange tint. What is that? A 5,000 euro bottle of Petrus Pomerol wine that spent a year in space.
Bordeaux researchers are analyzing a dozen bottles of the precious liquid – as well as 320 extracts from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines – which returned to Earth in January after a stay aboard the International Space Station.
They announced their preliminary impressions earlier this month – mainly, that the weightlessness didn’t ruin the wine and seemed to energize the vines.
Organizers say this is part of a longer-term effort to make plants on Earth more resilient to climate change and disease by exposing them to new stresses, and to better understand the process of aging, fermentation and disease. bubbles in the wine.
In a unique tasting this month, 12 connoisseurs tasted one of the space-traveled wines, tasting it blind alongside a bottle of the same vintage that had stayed in a cellar.
A special pressurized device gently uncorked the bottles at the Bordeaux Wine and Vine Research Institute. The tasters solemnly sniffed, stared, and finally, sipped.
“I have tears in my eyes,” Nicolas Gaume, CEO and co-founder of the company that organized the experiment, Space Cargo Unlimited, told The Associated Press.
Alcohol and glass are normally prohibited on the International Space Station, so each bottle was wrapped in a special steel cylinder during the trip.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Gaume said the experiment focused on studying the lack of gravity – which “creates enormous stress on all living species” – on wine and grapes.
“We are only at the beginning,” he said, calling the preliminary results “encouraging”.
Jane Anson, wine expert and writer at the Decanter wine publication, said the wine that was left on Earth tasted “a bit younger than that which had been in space.”
Chemical and biological analysis of the wine aging process could allow scientists to find a way to artificially age fine vintages, said Dr Michael Lebert, a biologist at Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany who has been consulted on the project.
Grapevine extracts – known as canes in the wine world – not only survived the trip, but also grew faster than vines on Earth, despite limited light and water.
Once researchers determined why, Lebert said it could help scientists develop more robust vines on Earth – and pave the way for viticulture and winemaking in space.
Christophe Chateau of the Conseil des Vignerons de Bordeaux hailed the research as “a good thing for the industry” but predicted that it would take a decade or more to come to practical applications. Chateau, who was not involved in the project, described ongoing efforts to adjust grape choices and techniques to adapt to increasingly hot temperatures.
“Bordeaux wine is a wine that draws its singularity from its history but also from its innovations,” he told the AP. “And we must never stop innovating.”
Private investors have helped finance the project, which the researchers hope to continue in other space missions. The cost was not disclosed.
For the average earthling, the main question is: what does cosmic wine taste like?
“For me, the difference between space and wine from the land … it was not easy to define”, explains Franck Dubourdieu, agronomist and oenologist from Bordeaux, expert in the study of wine and winemaking.
The researchers said each of the 12 panelists had an individual reaction. Some have observed “burnt orange reflections”. Others evoked aromas of dried leather or campfire.
“The one who remained on Earth, for me, was still a little more closed, a little more tannic, a little younger. And whoever had been in space, the tannins had mellowed, the more floral aromatic side came out, ”Anson said.
But whether the vintage was stolen in space or tied to the earth, she said, “They were both beautiful.”