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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Is it safe to pour wine through copper scrub pads to eliminate hydrogen sulfide?
—Bruce, Placerville, Calif.
Whoa, that’s a crazy question! Let me back up so everyone else can follow along.
Sulfur compounds like mercaptans can sometimes trouble a wine, giving off skunky, rotten egg notes. They are harmless, but distracting. The good news is that those aromas can often “blow off” after the wine sits in your glass or you swirl it around for a while.
Copper dissipates these sulfur compounds. Winemakers know this and might sometimes stir a batch of wine with a copper wand in the winery. And some wine lovers also know that dropping a penny—one minted before 1982, back when pennies were still copper—can also help. But that's not the best idea either: Exposing wine (or any beverage with acidity) to copper can have unintended effects, ranging from a metallic taste to potentially serious copper toxicity.
But copper scrub pads? That makes me uncomfortable, for more reasons than just the copper exposure. I contacted some of the biggest producers of copper scour pads, and I found out that some copper scouring pads are actually steel coated with copper. Since copper-coated zinc pennies don’t work, I’d be worried that copper-coated steel pads won’t work either. More worrisome is that many of these pads have mineral oil on them, presumably to prevent rusting. Mineral oil, especially in trace amounts, won’t hurt you if you ingest it, but I worry it will distract from the wine, adding a flavor and a possibly oily texture you might not want.
So my answer is no. Please do not pour your wine through a scour pad. Instead, if you come across a wine with reduced notes, pull out your largest wineglass, pour a taste with plenty of headspace, swirl vigorously, and exercise a little patience.
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