How Natural Wines Develop Reductive Notes

Thursday, 31 January, 2019
With little or no sulphites added, natural wines should be more at risk of oxidation. So why do some yield reductive notes?

Natural wines tend to prompt debate throughout the wine world. But beyond stylistic differences and philosophical principles, the subject raises a lot of interesting questions about wine chemistry and vinification approaches, particularly in terms of natural wines’ interaction with oxygen. For example, if the use of sulphites—the chief winemaking antioxidant—is avoided or severely limited, shouldn’t natural wines be at greater risk of oxidation? And shouldn’t the main threat to natural wines—and consequent faults—stem from oxidation?

While oxidative issues are an oft-heard complaint (if not a bit of a trope), it’s far from uncommon for bottles of natural wine—wines made with little to no sulfur additions, typically from organic or biodynamic grapes—to instead yield reductive aromas, with smoky, matchsticky, sulfurous, cabbagey notes. If natural wines are supposed to be heavily prone to oxidation, why do they just as easily wind up reflecting the opposite?

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