jamie goode's wine blog: Recognizing reduction?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Recognizing reduction?

Opened an Aussie pair tonight from Willunga 100 – the Grenache 2005 and Shiraz/Viognier 2005. Both were screwcapped (tin liner) and both started out with a distinctive roasted aroma, that initially seemed like it could be high toast oak, but then got more like popcorn and added a smoky, minerally element. Hmm, is this reduction? It’s hard to be sure, so I tried the copper penny trick (a 1966 penny, when they were still made of copper). This involves taking a clean copper penny and swirling it briefly in the wine.

Again, we’re dealing with perception here, but the treated wine seemed to become cleaner and more fruity. Much better. And if I pour an untreated glass from the bottle, the distinction is quite clear. Side-by-side, the treated and untreated wines are different. What I suspect here to be reduction is really getting in the way of the pure fruit that’s the calling card of these appealing wines. [Update: a day later both these wines showed clear fruit when poured from the bottle, which suggests that a bix of overnight oxidation is doing the same job as the copper treatment, with the smelly mercaptans disappearing. Of course, without proper chemical analysis it's hard to say for sure - the story is, though, a consistent one.]

Willunga 100 Shiraz–Viognier 2005 McLaren Vale, Australia
Pure sweet dark fruits nose with a nice floral lift and a bit of spice. Ripe and alluring. The palate has lovely sweet raspberry and blackberry fruit with a nice balancing lemony acidity adding definition to the plump ripe fruit. It’s a really attractive, juicy, rounded red wine of real appeal. (N.b. this note was taken after the wine had a copper penny dipped in it to get rid of a burnt popcorn/acrid smoky reductive edge.) Very good+ 89/100

Willunga 100 Grenache 2005 McLaren Vale, Australia
A ripe, sweetly fruited red wine with a perfumed, slightly alcoholic red fruits nose, leading to a smooth but firmly structured palate with spicy, almost peppery red berry fruit. There’s nice balance here, if perhaps just a little too much alcoholic sweetness and heat, but it’s approaching the elegant end of the Grenache spectrum. (N.b. this note was taken after the wine had a copper penny dipped in it to get rid of a burnt popcorn/acrid smoky reductive edge.) Very good+ 88/100

[note added later: I would heartily recommend these wines - they are avialable from Liberty Wines in the UK at around £8. But then there's the reduction issue: to be honest, I didn't really care for what I'm assuming is the reduced character, and while it didn't spoil the wine irredeemably, so I wouldn't equate it to a fault such as cork taint, it's a problem.]



At 1:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jamie,

I guess one has to allow for some reduction on wine, but it is a question of degree. It also begs the question whether consumers readily recognise reduction as a hindrance to the enjoyment of the wine or would ever consider it a fault.

Some of the reductive aromas on wines don't blow off so quickly and their burnt character is so pronounced that I would go further and call them "sulphurous". Like Etna. Stelvin tends to be a merciless magnifier in this respect and many winemakers still haven't got around to reducing the sulphur levels in their wines. After all although chemical analysis is one thing, trusting one's palate is another. In a restaurant, for example, a customer would presumably not have the luxury of waiting for acrid reductive odours to blow away (nor would they be likely to be carrying an old penny, methinks!), so should we treat reduction as a fault, albeit a temporary one in some cases, or a quasi-altered state that can be gently coaxed back to life with the kiss of oxygen? I'm not talking about ephemeral bottle stink, but a discernible problem that mutes or taints the wine's fruity flavours.

Finally, a statistic - of sorts - to throw into the melting pot. I taste about one hundred wines a week. Roughly 3% of wines under cork closures are corked or show TCA taint. About 2% of wines under stelvin reveal sufficiently high levels of sulphur to render them undrinkable. There is, however, a blurred middle-ground where even repeated tasting leaves me uncertain. It is on those occasions when you experience slightly toasty, rubbery aromas that could easily be an expression of the wine's inherent "minerality", but, because the wine has not had much contact with oxygen, the pure fruit aromatics are so toned down that you begin to think equally that you might be sniffing lingering reductive notes.

I do wonder the cork/stelvin debate is about science or pride versus prejudice. A well-known grower in Chablis once told me grandly that his wines were hardly ever corked because he spared no expense and purchased the most expensive cork. The highest percentage of corked wines I've ever tasted belong to him. And one of the original proponents of stelvin swore to me that he'd never had a bottle which could be determined as "off" until I presented one of his wines blind to him - which was rank with sulphur. Hubris plays as big a part in my wine world as science!

Stelvin is great and its introduction has been good for wine in general, but it has been -and still is - used an alibi for faulty wine-making.


At 10:08 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Thanks for your insightful comment. I agree, but would make a distinction between SO2 and reduced sulfur compounds in this respect.

This whole screwcap reduction issue isn't as bad as cork taint, but it is an issue the trade needs to face and not go into denial over.

At 6:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Half tidy wine for under £8,better depth than I would expect from the grape,is this the infamous reduction? Weight is perfect for anytime of the day drinking,which is difficult to find in red with a half decent nose.Tidy little site this Jamie! Keep it up. Mike

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