While metallic elements can add some welcome glitz to a wine’s label, they may actually be useful for improving what’s inside the bottle, too.

Scientists in Australia recently discovered that gold nanoparticles can eliminate sulfur aromas in wine, according to a press release. Researchers at Flinders University and the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) published their findings in a recent edition of the academic journal Science of Food.

The study, funded by Wine Australia, focused on removing volatile sulfur compounds in wine. A natural byproduct of the winemaking process, sulfur compounds can impart unpleasant aromas of rotten egg and are traditionally removed with high-cost copper sulfate.

To extract these sulfur compounds, the research group developed a thin layer of plasma polymer coating that attaches to a surface and targets available nanoparticles — in this case, gold particles. The “smart surface” of particles then connects with the sulfur compounds in a wine sample, rendering the compounds immobile. Initial trials found that the plasma polymer coating can remove up to 45 percent of hydrogen sulfide from wine, as well as other unwanted sulfur compounds.

“A key benefit of the new approach is that it is easily deployable and retrievable. Essentially, there’s a one-step process where the smart surface is added directly to the wine and then removed after a certain time period,” AWRI lead researcher Agnieszka Mierczynska-Vasilev says in the release.

These researchers call it “breakthrough technology,” noting that the nanoparticle layer could also be added to winemaking tools to greatly reduce sulfur compounds. The group foresees its use on filtration machines, aerators, decanters, and packaging materials.

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