Ripe, Fruity, with a Hint of Carbon-14

A story combining wine and nuclear physics… How could I not mention it here?

A group from the University of Adelaide have examined the carbon-14 content of Barossa Valley wines of authenticated vintages ranging from 1958 to 1997. They find a significant correlation between the vintage and the carbon-14 count, strong enough to allow them to date an unknown vintage correctly in a blind test to within a year.

The C-14 levels vary over the timespan tested because of relic atmospheric radiation from open-air atomic testing in the post-WWII years. The proportion of C-14 gets absorbed by the grapes and ends up in the wine. This “bomb pulse” dating technique has been known for some time, but it’s the first time it’s been applied to dating wine vintages.

Lest this be considered a trivial application of science, remember that top end vintage wines are big business. There is concern over forgery or adulteration of expensive wines, and this technique can be used on very small samples to either verify a wine’s vintage or detect tampering. Science to the rescue!

A reference to the original research publication can be found here. Apparently it was published in 2004, so I don’t know why the SMH decided to pick this up and run it as a story today.

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