When the work day is winding down, I’m already looking forward to heading home and wine-ing down — and there is nothing more disappointing than opening that lovely bottle of Malbec you’ve been saving, pouring a nice tall glass, only to find an aroma that's just... wrong. Thankfully, there is a useful trick for how to save spoiled wine with a penny. A new YouTube webseries by The American Chemical Society called “Chemistry Life Hacks” shows you quick and easy ways to fix problems you might experience in your kitchen, from how to sharpen your knives to how to read your oven’s true temperature. But luckily, we no longer have to pray to Dionysus to fix the wine — all it takes is a copper penny (I knew small change was good for something!).
This trick isn’t for corked wine — which stinks of moldy cardboard and is due to a contaminated cork. The penny trick works on wine that smells of burnt match sticks, rubber, and rotten egg (yuck). These are due to a chemical process called "reduction," the smells are a result of sulphur molecules that are produced as part of the natural winemaking process going into hyperdrive. Sometimes this happens with wine that has sat out too long, or has been racked inappropriately. So just how easy is it to bring your wine back from the dead?
Find A Penny/Clean A Penny:
Drop The Penny Into The Stinky Wine:
The copper in the penny reacts with the sulphur molecules, producing odorless copper sulfide molecules. Stirring the wine with a silver spoon also has the same effect — albeit, at a higher price. Once the steps are complete, the wine will smell like, well, wine again.
But wait! Why stop there? Many other common wine problems can be fixed by simple chemistry easily and cheaply! A few of them include:
How To Fix Cork Taint
If you've ever opened a bottle of vino and instead of fruit and spices, smelled something akin to wet dog and moldy newspaper, then your wine is badly corked. Though less common in today's wine production, a wine can become contaminated when the wood of the cork comes into contact with bacteria and chlorine (sometimes used to clean the corks).
When we talk about a wine being "corked," we are saying that it is spoiled by the chemical 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA for short. And there are a lot of great videos on YouTube explaining how to tell if your wine is suffering from this problem. This is one of the reasons why it is customary to taste a wine before committing to the entire bottle at a restaurant. It is pretty easy to detect once you know what you're looking for, and is an excellent reason to return the wine to the server or to the store where you bought it in order to get a refund. But if you are tight on time and not able to bring the wine back, there is a tip to help minimize the offensive smell!
Andrew Waterhouse, professor of wine chemistry at the University of California, Davis recommends decanting the wine into a bowl with a sheet or two of plastic wrap. As he explained to The New York Times, “It’s kind of messy, but very effective in just a few minutes.” The TCA molecules in question are chemically similar to the polyethylene and will stick to the plastic like a magnet. The only downside is this trick can leave your wine tasting of plastic, so it works best with a full-bodied red, as the intensity will cover up any residual plastic taste.
How Help Oxidization
If you love wine as much as I do, it's rare to leave a bottle lying around for too long. But sometimes all you want is one glass (I know, hard to believe) and within a week, that wine will go to waste. Leaving an open bottle of wine sitting around for too long will change the color and the taste. Oxidization (exposing the liquid to the atmosphere for an extended time) will make the color less vibrant and bright and the taste more dry, bitter, and even vinegary.
How can this be helped? Well, sadly once this problem occurs you cannot undo it. However, there are ways to help your wine last longer! To slow down the chemical processes that lead it to oxidize, make sure you put the cork back in the bottle and store the bottle, whether it be red or white, in the fridge. "Chemical reaction happen more slowly at lower temperatures," explains the blog Food&Wine. To make sure the wine is exposed to less oxygen, you can also use a pump like the Vacu Vin to vacuum the air out of the bottle, or you can gas the wine in order to replace the oxygen in the bottle with something else. This can be accomplished with products such as Private Preserve, which puts inert gas into the wine bottle. By following these steps your bottle of Pinot will stay fresh and ready to sip!