A Moment of Science

When Wine Turns to Vinegar

Did you know that wine can turn to vinegar? Find out how to prevent this catastrophic event on this Moment of Science.

If you’re a wine connoisseur like me, then you’ve probably experienced the catastrophic disappointment of opening a newly purchased several-hundred dollar bottle of wine only to discover that it tastes like vinegar.

Any wine can turn to vinegar if oxygen gets inside the bottle and reacts with the alcohol. This happens when a cork is defective, or when the wine is stored upright instead of on its side. The storage position is crucial; to keep out oxygen, a cork must remain wet. If you buy old wine at your local liquor store, you can make a good guess as to the wine’s condition based on what you see, but not so if you’re thinking of purchasing a bottle of wine from, say, a shipwreck.

My point is that wine gone to vinegar isn’t a chance you have to take, not since a couple of chemists designed a way to place an unopened bottle of wine into a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. Normally this device is used to determine the chemical contents of a small tube of liquid, as well as to examine nuclei in the human body. But, they have adapted the instrument so that it can detect vinegar even before it reaches the official level required to call a wine spoiled.

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