Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Someone told me that if you put an old penny in a glass of wine, the wine may taste better. Is that true? Why?
—Thomas K., Northbrook, Ill.
It is a neat trick, but it only works with certain pennies, and certain wines. Pennies minted before 1982 were made of mostly copper, not zinc. And copper reacts with mercaptans and helps them dissipate. What are mercaptans? They are a stinky sulfur compound sometimes found in wine that’s a natural byproduct of fermentation, and amplified by certain winemaking practices.
Mercaptans are harmless, but sometimes they get in the way of appreciating a wine, and create what are sometimes called “reduced” notes. That skunky odor might blow off when you swirl your glass or decant the wine, but the penny trick works too.
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