BORDEAUX, France (AP) – It tastes like rose petals. Smells like campfire. Glows with a burnt orange hue. What is it? A 5,000 euro bottle of Petrus Pomerol wine that spent a year in space.
Researchers in Bordeaux are analyzing a dozen bottles of the precious liquid, along with 320 fragments of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, which returned to Earth in January after a stay aboard the International Space Station..
They announced their preliminary impressions on Wednesday, primarily, that weightlessness did not ruin the wine and seemed to energize the vines.
Organizers say it’s part of a longer-term effort to make Earth’s plants more resistant to climate change and disease by exposing them to new stresses, and to better understand the aging process, fermentation, and bubbles. in wine.
In a unique tasting this month, 12 connoisseurs sampled one of the space-traveled wines and tasted it blindly along with a bottle of the same vintage that had been left in a winery.
A special pressurized device delicately uncorked the bottles at the Bordeaux Wine and Vineyard Research Institute. The tasters solemnly inhaled, watched, and finally drank.
“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 packed inside a special steel cylinder during the trip.
At a news conference Wednesday, Gaume said the experiment focused on studying lack of gravity, which “creates tremendous stress on any living species,” in wine and grapevines.
“We are only at the beginning,” he said, calling the preliminary results “encouraging.”
Jane Anson, a wine expert and writer for wine publication Decanter, said the wine left on Earth tasted “a little younger than what 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 Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander University who was consulted on the project.
The vine fragments, known as canes in the grape world, not only survived the journey, but also grew faster than vines on Earth, despite the scarcity of light and water.
Once the researchers determine why, Lebert said that could help scientists develop sturdier vines on Earth and pave the way for growing grapes and making wine in space.
Christophe Chateau of the Bordeaux Wine-Makers’ Council welcomed the research as “a good thing for the industry,” but predicted that it would take a decade or more to bring it to practical applications. Chateau, who was not involved in the project, described ongoing efforts to adjust grape options and techniques to accommodate increasingly warmer temperatures.
“Bordeaux wine is a wine that gets its uniqueness from its history but also from its innovations,” he told AP. “And we must never stop innovating.”
Private investors helped fund the project, which the researchers hope to continue on more space missions. The cost was not disclosed.
For the average Earthman, the main question is: What does cosmic wine taste like?
“For me, the difference between space and land wine … was not easy to define,” said Franck Dubourdieu, a Bordeaux agronomist and winemaker, an expert in the study of wine and winemaking.
The researchers said that each of the 12 panelists had an individual reaction. Some observed “burnt orange reflections”. Others evoked scents of cured leather or a campfire.
“The one who had 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 softened, the side of more floral aromatics came out, ”said Anson.
But whether the harvest was spatial or terrestrial, he said, “They were both beautiful.”
Charlton reported from Paris. Nicolás Garriga contributed in Bordeaux.