Chemists at University of California Davis have developed a scanner which can detect if a wine is spoilt.

Borrowing from Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology – a technique used extensively in medicine – the device can detect miniscule levels of acetic acid, the compound which gives vinegar its characteristic taste. It cannot at present detect TCA (cork taint).

Associate professor Matthew Augustine and graduate student April Weekley tested bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon from the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology’s collection.

According to the results bottles from 1950, 1960 and 1968 were spoiled while bottles from 1956, 1970 and 1977 showed acceptable acetic levels.

Augustine feels this technology could be particularly useful to auction houses and collectors who specialise in older and high-end wines.

Auction houses however, remain sceptical. According to Robert Sleigh of Sotheby’s New York, it has limitations in its current form. He told, ‘I can already tell if a wine is completely oxidized or in reasonable shape by examining the color.

‘What would really be interesting is if the device could show if the wine is in pristine condition, or not quite as good as it should be. Even better if it could demonstrate that a wine is corked.’

Augustine is optimistic about the future uses of the

scanner, which he says will be able to detect many

more properties and defects in wine as research continues.

Written by Kerin O’Keefe6 January 2003