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Spilling the Beans on Removing Wine Stains

January 23, 2002

UC Davis is famous for perfecting how wine is made. Leave it to a 16-year-old to find the best way to unmake it. Natalie Ramirez, a high school student doing a summer internship in UC Davis' enology department, conducted an experiment to find the best way to remove wine stains.

She tried to remove red wine from four different types of cloth using a variety of cleaners and methods. Among her findings:

* Stains that had been left overnight were, predictably, harder to remove than stains that were treated immediately. But the most effective methods for getting at the stains did not change. The processes that were best for a 2-minute-old stain were still the best for those that had set.

* To the surprise of no one who has ever tipped over a glass, silk is the hardest material to get wine stains out of. Nylon is the easiest (relax, cotton was second-easiest).

* The best commercial cleaning product is something called Erado-Sol made by a company named Camco (www.ecamco.com). It can be ordered online or from a laboratory supply house--$4 for a 2-ounce squirt bottle or $1,850 for a 55-gallon drum. Spray 'n' Wash worked just as well on cotton.

* But the best treatment in most cases was a solution of equal parts of 3% hydrogen peroxide and Dawn dishwashing liquid (be careful using it on colored fabrics, though.)

* The staple cleaners of wine folklore proved to be among the least effective. Rubbing a red wine stain with white wine actually made the stain worse on silk, though it did seem to do some good on nylon. Sprinkling the stain with salt proved just as ineffective.

The experiments were conducted under the supervision of Andrew Waterhouse, an enology professor at Davis. Her work finished, Ramirez returned to Center High School in Sacramento, where she is a junior.

Great Expectations

How much can you trust your perceptions of a wine? Not too, according to a study by a French linguist named Frederic Brochet reported in the Times of London newspaper. He ran two experiments to find how expectations can affect how we taste.

In the first, he presented a panel of wine experts with a series of red wines, including one that was a white wine made red with flavorless dye. Not one expert detected it.

"It is a well-known psychological phenomenon--you taste what you are expected to taste," said Brochet, who in November presented a paper on "The Color of Odor." "They were expecting to taste a red wine, and so they did."

In a second test, he presented the same wine twice to a group of judges, the first time describing it as a prestigious grand cru Bordeaux, the second time as a cheaper wine. You guessed it: The judges overwhelmingly favored the wine they thought was more expensive. While only 12 of the 50-odd experts liked the wine when they thought it was cheap, 40 liked it when they thought it was expensive.

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