None of us is as dumb as all of us. That’s the wonderful reality that the Internet has brought us. Take any subject, do a quick Google query, and you can easily find the most uninformed and misguided attempts at sharing knowledge you could imagine. Wine is no different. Witness a story that I have been surprised to se spread like wildfire around the Interwebs: Fix Your Spoiled Wine with a Penny. I kid you not, no less than 45 news articles were published with some variation of that title in the last week.
Everyone wants to believe in a miracle cure for spoiled wine. But there isn’t one.
As one sane voice in the cacophony of internet idiocy explains, putting a copper penny in a glass of wine will eliminate only one very specific aromatic flaw of a wine. It will certainly not take old, spoiled, oxidized, or otherwise flawed wine and make it any more palatable.
The specific flaw that actually can be affected by dropping a penny in a glass of wine is something that most wine professionals generically call “reduction.” Reduction happens when a wine is deprived of oxygen while it is being made and aged — essentially the opposite of oxidation. When this happens in conjunction with several other factors in winemaking, various sulfur compounds can develop in the wine that result in odd aromas, including most famously the smell of egg yolks, burnt matchstick, or garlic.
These, and only these aromas — which often “blow off” or go away on their own if the wine is left alone to breathe — can be mitigated by dropping a CLEAN copper penny or a silver spoon into the glass of wine. How? Because the molecules that cause the off aromas will rather quickly combine with the molecules of silver or copper to create inert (and therefore odorless and tasteless) copper sulfide or silver sulfide.
This is essentially a chemistry parlor trick. I’ve used it once or twice in my life just for fun, but the truth of the matter is that most experienced wine lovers can easily ignore or “taste through” these slightly sulfury or stinky aromas that dissipate within 10 or 15 minutes. Or they can just decant the wine and wait a little bit if they don’t want to.
What’s more, when a wine is chock full of the mercaptans and other compounds that make it super stinky with these kinds of aromas, a penny doesn’t really fix it any more than putting plastic wrap into your badly TCA tainted wine will fix it. Fatally flawed wine has one real solution: pouring it out and opening another.
But thanks to the Internet, I can hear the sound of tens of thousands of pennies hitting the bottom of wine glasses around the world this week, followed no doubt by the expletive laden outbursts of disappointed wine drinkers everywhere.
Image of an elegant young woman holding a wine glass courtesy of Bigstock.