Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
If copper can improve the flavor of wine, why not drink wine from copper vessels?
—Silo, Knoxville, Tenn.
That’s a complicated question, with an even more complicated answer. First, for those who don't know why Silo is invoking copper, he's referring to the ability of copper to dissipate stinky sulfur compounds that can sometimes haunt a wine: Dropping a penny (minted before 1982) or some other piece of copper into a glass of skunky wine can help dissipate mercaptans, the source of that sulphur smell in wines suffering from "reduction." So to clarify, your conditional "if" is a big one—exposure to copper doesn't improve the flavor of most wines, only those that are flawed by the presence of excessive mercaptans.
As for drinking wine from copper vessels, there are some good reasons not to do that. The next time you order a Moscow mule, take a closer look at that "copper" mug: It's actually lined with some other type of non-reactive metal. That's because the acidity in the lime juice in that cocktail (as well as the acidity in wine) would react with the copper, causing some of it to leach into your beverage. Not only could it introduce a metallic flavor to your wine, but it could also introduce you to the unpleasant symptoms of copper toxicity, which range from upset stomach to coma.
Finally, traditional wineglasses have a lot of features that enhance our appreciation of wine: They are clear so you can admire the wine's color, and they come in shapes designed to accentuate its aromas and flavors.