Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
What does the term “reduction” mean in wine?
—Russell, Hawthorn, Australia
You’re probably familiar with making a wine reduction sauce in cooking, but that’s not what we’re talking about when we describe a wine as being “reduced” or “reductive.” It’s a reference to what happens when a winemaker reduces the amount of oxygen that wine is exposed to during the winemaking process.
There are a few ways that reductive winemaking can be accomplished: The wine might be fermented in closed-top stainless-steel containers (as opposed to barrels or open-top containers), or the wine might be blanketed with an inert gas that acts as a barrier between the wine and oxygen.
The opposite of reductive winemaking is oxidative winemaking, where a wine is encouraged to mingle with oxygen to soften its texture, or with long-term stability in mind. (Of course, too much oxygen is also a bad thing.) Not all wines are made with an either/or approach—a winemaking process might include oxidative techniques during fermentation and reductive techniques elsewhere in the process.
Reducing oxygen exposure can help preserve fresh fruit notes. But wine requires a certain amount of oxygen, and if it doesn’t get enough, it can suffer from “reduced” notes, when volatile sulfur compounds called mercaptans can result in a stinky, skunky whiff of rotten eggs, rubber, struck matches or sewage. But a wine suffering from reduced notes isn’t necessarily ruined: Sometimes those funky aromas will blow off with a little oxygen exposure via decanting or just swirling the wine in your glass.