This Company's Chemically Crafted Wine Blends Knock Off Pricier Bottles

A new wine company called Replica is betting that most people care a lot more about taste than labels. Using chemical analysis, Replica makes knockoff wines that taste similar to more expensive brands—the drinking equivalent of buying CVS-brand ibuprofen instead of Advil. 

“We ensure at least 90 percent chemical similarity to the wine by which each was inspired, in notes such as acid, butter, caramel, citrus, earthy, floral, fruity, herbal, nutty, oaky, smoky, spicy, sweet and tannic,” the president of the lab that crafts the copycats for Replica explains in a press release. Replica aims to offer wines for 25 to 50 percent less than the wines they’re knocking off. 

Wine is a little more complicated than generic drugs, though, considering the taste is influenced by growing conditions, climate, and the soil of particular vineyards. So how identical can a reproduction be? Following Replica’s instructions for a blind taste test, mental_floss put the company’s claims on trial, comparing pricier wine with its chemically similar Replica equivalent—one of eight varieties the company calls “masterful reproductions of expensive, admired wines.” 

We tried Replica’s Pickpocket, a red blend that retails for around $25, along with its inspiration, a bottle of The Prisoner Wine Company’s 2014 red blend ($45 on wine.com). Six of mental_floss’ finest connoisseurs tasted three unmarked glasses (OK, plastic cups), two filled with Replica wine, and one filled with The Prisoner, guessing which one was the more expensive wine. 

Five of six testers thought one of the glasses of Replica wine was from the more expensive bottle. But that wasn’t exactly a good thing. No one particularly liked either wine—even the $45 red blend. One tester described the Replica blend as tasting “almost corked,” while another described it as appropriate for a happy hour special. There were similarities in the flavors of both wines, but the Replica wine was a bit sweeter and tasted rougher compared to its inspiration. “Full in a bad way,” as one staffer referred to it.

While Replica’s Pickpocket wasn’t undrinkable, neither did it taste like a $25 bottle, much less a $45 one, although we should note that no one at mental_floss is a sommelier. If you put it on the table during a dinner party, you wouldn’t be fooling any of your guests into thinking you’d splurged on a nice bottle, as the company suggests.

We can only speak to one varietal of the company’s wines, and perhaps the issue here was more about people disliking the wine that served as the inspiration for the budget-priced imposter. The company’s Knockoff chardonnay retails for less than $11, and its Just Right cabernet sauvignon retails for less than $13—both price points at which a rough taste might not be so disappointing. 

All images courtesy of Replica

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Big Questions
Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?
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by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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alcohol
A Beer From the Middle Ages Is Making a Serious Comeback

Hop-forward beer is all the rage today, but in the middle ages many imbibers preferred brews that skewed towards the sweeter side. Now, centuries after it fell out of fashion, Atlas Obscura reports that gruit ale is making a comeback.

Gruit beer is any beer that features botanicals in place of hops. The ingredients that give the drink its distinctive sweet, aromatic taste can be as familiar as ginger and lavender or as exotic as mugwort and seabuckthorn. The herbs play the role of hops by both adding complex flavors and creating an inhospitable environment for harmful microbes.

It may be hard for modern beer lovers to imagine beer without hops, but prior to the 16th century gruit was as common in parts of Europe as IPAs are in hip American cities today. Then, in 1516, that style of beer suddenly vanished from pint glasses: That was the year Germany passed a beer purity law that restricted beer formulas to hops, water, and barley. Many of the key botanicals in gruit beer were considered aphrodisiacs at the time, and the rising Puritan movement helped push the brew further into obscurity.

Hops have dominated the beer scene ever since, and only in the past few decades have microbrewers started giving old gruit recipes the attention they're due. In 2017, the Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois released their seasonal Scratch Tonic, made from a combination of dandelion, carrot tops, clover, and ginger. The Põhjala Brewery in Estonia brews their Laugas beer using Estonian herbs, caraway, and juniper berries. Get in touch with your local microbrewery to see if they have their own version of the old-school beer in their line-up.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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