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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What are oxidative wines?
—Alexandros A., Limassol, Cyprus
An “oxidative” wine is one that’s made in a way that deliberately exposes the wine to oxygen. That might seem strange to read at first because oxygen is in air, and air is everywhere! But it’s the difference between a wine that’s made in a closed, stainless-steel tank with a layer of inert gas over it versus one that’s made in an open-top fermentor with loads of racking. The opposite of an oxidative wine is a reductive wine, where the exposure to oxygen is very controlled and limited, to preserve fresh, fruity notes.
Oxidative wines tend to exhibit more nutty, dried fruit and sometimes even savory qualities, and they can have more of a brown or brick tinge to their color than non-oxidative wines. Some of the more extreme examples of oxidative wines are Sherries and Vin Santos, but there is a wide range of wine styles that are considered oxidative. And keep in mind that we’re talking about wines made in a deliberate style, not wines that have become oxidized because of old age, poor corks or bad storage. Oxidized wines will also have nutty notes, but are typically out of balance, the flavors tired and stale.
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