I’ve written a few times about reduction, and sometimes I wonder if I should not. It’s one of the least understood terms in winemaking. People use the term reduction to describe a lot of different things. Some studies have actually shown that people use the term correctly less than 50% of the time.
Reduced simply means that there are smells or tastes of sulfur in the wine. Sulfur is a product of fermentation, so it happens naturally in the wine, and it’s added as a preservative and anti bacterial agent. Usually you add about 25-75 ppm, or parts per million. At the worst you can get Hydrogen Sulfite, which smells like rotten eggs, but you can also get smells of matches, or simply what many people call ‘minerals’.
Reduction happens when the wine is not in contact with Oxygen. Oxygen has a molecular effect on sulfites, which lessen the smell they have in a wine. That’s why if you have those smells in a glass, you can often get rid of them by swirling the glass and exposing the wine to air.
So the hard part for a winemaker is that Oxygen can ruin your wine if you expose too much of the wine to air. So in my winemaking I’ve taken the approach of limiting Oxygen as much as possible, and I taste the wine regularly to check for reduction. If I start to smell sulfur smells in the wine, I then have the wine moved from barrel to barrel.
This is called ‘racking’ the wine, and the exposure the wine gets to air in the process will eliminate the reductive smells and tastes. It’s something you need to stay on top of in the winery and find the right balance.
So my last tasting note on our Syrah was that it was ‘reductive’ and I was going to rack the barrel. We took a sample of some of that wine to share with friends on Sunday night, and just the exposure it had in going from barrel to sample bottle had eliminated the reductive smell. Instead it had a nice nose of violets and blueberries.
Our friends at dinner really seemed to enjoy the ½ bottle and it was met with a lot of enthusiasm at our table. The highlight for me though was we shared a glass with our waitress. She was full of praise and took our card to give to the manager. A small little thing, but that made my night. A big part of our plan is to get our wine into local restaurants and really get the staffs excited about it. So every waitress who really likes it is a great little victory along the way!