Ever pour a glass of wine, smell it and think, “That stinks!”? If so, here’s what might be happening—and a way to fix it.
Under a variety of circumstances, wines can become what is referred to as “reductive.” This is a term for a broad range of aromas created when a wine has not been exposed to enough oxygen during production. One of the most common reductive aromas is reminiscent of rotten eggs.
“Hydrogen sulfide is generally the enemy in this case,” says Timothy Donahue, owner of Horse Thief, a wine consulting company in Walla Walla, Washington. “If you’ve been to a geyser or hot spring, that’s what you’re smelling.”
While your wine might smell untoward, the good news is hydrogen sulfide is very reactive and will blow off over time. Better still, you can make it go away immediately with one simple trick: Carefully put a penny in your glass or decanter, give it a swirl and voila! Your stinky wine now smells beautiful.
“It’s one of the coolest party tricks you can do,” says Donahue.
Note this magic trick only works with pennies made prior to 1982, as they contain copper (since then, pennies are copperplated zinc). What’s happening is the copper in the penny binds the hydrogen sulfide, creating copper sulfate and copper sulfide, which are nonaromatic.
You might notice this type of reduction more frequently in new vintage white wines and rosés. It also occurs more often with screwcap wines.
“Many of the screwcap wines that we drink here in the U.S. come from larger wineries, and reduction is much more likely to occur in big tanks because there’s no oxygen,” says Donahue. Screwcaps are also a very tight closure and can have less oxygen transfer than cork, slowing the rate at which hydrogen sulfide dissipates.
While the penny trick can save some stinky wines, it will not fix all reductive aromas. If hydrogen sulfide levels get too high, they become much more stable compounds. But if the trick doesn’t work, don’t fret. It only cost you a penny.