Some bottles of wine are worth thousands of dollars. But if oxygen has leaked past the cork, it could be thousand-dollar vinegar -- and theres no way to tell without opening the bottle. Now chemists at the University of California, Davis, can check an unopened bottle for spoilage using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), the same technology used for medical MRI scans.
Natural bacteria in wine use oxygen from the air to turn alcohol into vinegar, or acetic acid. If a wine bottle is securely corked, the small amount of air in the bottle is quickly used up. If the cork is leaky and air gets in, the vinegar flavor eventually becomes strong enough to make the wine undrinkable.
NMR scans of wine show distinct peaks for water, ethanol and acetic acid, said Matthew Augustine, an associate professor of chemistry at UC Davis. That means you can measure the amount of each component,
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