Can dropping a penny in a glass of wine make it taste better?

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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.

Dear Thomas,

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.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

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