09 August 2011

the copper penny thing

Every so often - usually in the dining sections of popular newspapers - I read about the Copper Penny Trick, wherein an author dispels reduced aromas in a wine by plunking a copper penny in the glass. Hey presto, and gone (or diminished) are the burnt-matchstick / eggy qualities associated with sulfur reduction.

I have always hated these articles, despite having not, until just recently, tried the copper thing myself. I guess I felt the articles subtracted more than they added to wine discourse, in giving the impression to lay readers that wine were some wizardy substance that responded to talismanic rituals. (For that is the image that remains, regardless of whether the article in question delved into the fussier science of copper and mercaptans. Jamie Goode of WineAnorak explains much of that science here.) 

My worry has been, I think, that if we go down this road and make it socially acceptable to propose putting things from our pockets into wine, we will inevitably begin encountering doofuses who know nothing of wine except this trick. We'll be serving wine at a social occasion of some sort and Mr. Copper Penny will stand and do his thing and then cheekily propose adding Eye of Newt, or Deadly Nightshade. 

I have yet to experiment with either of the latter supplements. But, having consciously avoided trying it out for years, I can now attest to the effects of the copper penny. 

The other night my friends J, C, and I salvaged a reduced bottle of 2010 Beaujolais-Villages by a vigneron friend of ours who I will not name. A 5-centime Euro coin,* though only plated in copper, dramatically improved the wine, erasing the bad smells and allowing the familiar keen raspberry fruit to show.

Tellingly, J and I, both wine professionals (ex-, in my case), were similarly surprised, despite having read all the same reports. From this I gather I'm not the only one who's reticent about "tricks" of any kind, who would generally rather just open a different bottle and be done with it. There are others tricks, of course, notably the one involving use of Saran Wrap / Cling film to remove cork taint. Haven't tried that one yet, mainly because wine-drenched Saran Wrap is somehow grotesque and painful to imagine, the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, or biting a towel. 

Whether or not that trick should prove as successful as the penny thing, I suspect both will remain, for me, last-ditch resorts for unique occasions. (Irreplaceable bottle; friends leaving town; meteor about to hit earth.) My reluctance here is due less to a sense of social propriety than to a sense that one should never have to force things. If the wine doesn't want to be drunk that night, so be it, on to the next bottle...

* For the record, we also tried the Silver Spoon Trick with a real silver spoon. Didn't work nearly as well.

Related Links: 

Jamie Goode's good essay on mercaptans @ WineAnorak
Jamie Goode employing the Penny Trick @ WineAnorak
Victoria Moore (who?) seemingly claiming the Penny Trick as her own @ TheGuardian
Eric Asimov touching on the penny thing @ NYTimes

An account of the Saran Wrap thing, photos included, @ SenegorWine


  1. The Saran Wrap trick "works" in that it removes the overt stink of the taint, but the wine is at best a pale shadow of what it would have been anyway (due to lingering low-level taint or some sort of residual damage, I recall some debate on this point but it doesn't really matter), so in that case your previous instinct is correct: just open another bottle.

  2. i've also wondered whether the saran wrap itself imparts any flavor to the wine, as it does to cheese. probably nothing perceptible, but it still seems inadviseable

  3. As the inventor of the Penny Trick (1978), it has to be oxidized, as does the silver spoon, to work. The best way to accomplish that is peroxide, which kills all the germs, too. It's also better to use pre-1982, non zinc pennies. (Zinc & copper are synergistic toxins except as alloys [brass, etc...]). They're cheap & work fine. the invention, the Sulfite Solution, a peroxided copper tube, proved unpatentable, but works very well for full bottles of wine & juice, but not bubbly. Enjoy, Linus Hollis, ScD