Confusion Over Reduction in Wines

confusedVicki Denig performs a valuable service by explaining one of the new wine buzzwords—reduction. Unfortunately, the winemakers she interviewed weren’t quite on the same page.

“Reduction” is not really a new term. Reduction refers to a wine that has been protected from oxygen exposure. The phenomenon has been around since winemakers have been adding sulfur or leaving wine on the lees without racking. (It’s called reduction because the wine or juice molecules in the absence of oxygen are gaining an election thus making the overall charge more negative.)

Winemakers now use the term frequently because more and more winemakers are practicing reductive winemaking as a way of preserving fresh fruit expression, and so it has crept into the wine lexicon as a way of explaining what is going on with a wine.

It had always been my assumption that wines in a reductive stage smell like garlic, matchsticks, or in extreme cases rotten eggs or burnt rubber. (Happily the effect usually goes away when oxygen is introduced so we typically don’t get rotten eggs in our Chardonnay)

Unfortunately, winemakers themselves (at least the ones quoted in the article) seem to be confused about which aromas indicate reduction.

Rajit Parr of Sandhi Wines says,

Reduction happens due to fermentation, it’s a byproduct. So minerals can make an affect on it, but it’s not a smell of minerals. When people say ‘Oh yeah, this wine has a lot of minerality’ because it has reduction, that’s an incorrect statement.”

But then:

In Central Otago, Francis Hutt, winemaker at Carrick Winery, also supports positive reduction. For him, great examples tend to show stone, flint, and “semi-industrial” flavors.

Hmm. Stone and flint are rather common descriptions of mineral aromas at least as that troubled term “minerality” has been used recently. [Most minerals don’t have an aroma; it’s a general term used to indicate anything rock or gravel-like in a wine]

And Abe Schoener winemaker at Red Hook Winery and founder of the Scholium Project reports:

On the positive side, for Schoener, notes of roasted coffee, chocolate, dark and savory notes, to notes of rocks, hot stony surfaces, ocean, and even notes of animal excrement, can bring positive, layered characteristics to a wine.

Coffee and chocolate I thought were oak derived aromas. Animal excrement, aka “barnyard,” is a “brett” derivative. Rocks and sea breeze, again, we’ve been classifying as minerality.

So is the take home point that we should be using the term “reduction” instead of “minerality”?  That won’t fly because lots of wines smell of rocks that are conventionally made, without reduction.

So after reading this article I am more confused than ever. It’s the job of philosophy to confuse readers; not journalism.

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