What do reductive notes indicate about the quality of a Chardonnay (if anything)?

I’m not necessarily looking to understand more than what I already think I do from a scientific standpoint. As I understand it, reductive notes in a Chardonnay (and any wine, for that matter…I just tend to find it and read about it most often in white Burgs and some newer new world Chards) are born from the wine being created in a highly oxygen-deficient environment. The result is the existence of mercaptans, a volatile sulfur compound. No, I’m more seeking to understand the qualitative relationship (if one exists) between smelling or tasting reductive notes in a Chardonnay and the actual wine.

I feel like when I read a TN and the taster writes about reductive notes or the struck match-like aromas that indicate a reductive wine, it’s a mark of high quality. Admittedly, my mind immediately jumps to something positive when I smell reductive notes. “Oh, this must be a well-made Chard!” And, most often, I really like the wine. Am I nuts? Is that the case? I also have seen it creeping into some of the new world Chardonnays that this group (and I, generally) favor like Walter Scott Chardonnays. Do these reductive traits indicate quality?

I don’t think reductive winemaking signifies anything, except that it is very fashionable to do these days. If anything, I feel like it makes wines taste more alike.

Well it certainly is indicative of a wine making style, one which, producer dependent, I also really like. Not many argue with the quality of Coche-Dury, a poster child of the style. But the volatile sulfur compounds can overwhelm a wine though making it a fault.

I don’t think it tells you anything about the inherent quality of the wine any more than the presence or absence of noticeable oak does. It’s one of several choices made by the wine maker, which may or may not add up to a quality product.

Got it. That’s helpful…thank you. Do winemakers purposefully adjust exposure to oxygen in the winemaking process? It would seem to me that, in general, oxygen exposure would be avoided at almost any cost in most winemaking situations. Do some Chardonnay producers allow a little bit of exposure, and those making Chardonnay in a purposefully-reductive style allow less?

Pretty much every step in the winemaking process is a consideration in redox potential. The myriad decisions in the vineyard, vinification, aging, and bottling procedures will greatly affect the resulting wine. The use of optical sorters, “closed” bladder presses, dry ice, sacrificial tannins, suspended solid consideration, stainless steel fermentation/aging, sur lie aging, lots of argon, and increasing the dissolved carbon dioxide before bottling can all reduce oxygen exposure. And those are all great for aromatic white grapes, but Chardonnay has lots of phenolics. These compounds crave oxygen and in my experience need to be given a good helping of oxygen to be stable. I’m not in the “macro-ox” camp with browning the juice before fermentation to drop out all the polyphenol oxidase, but I do believe barrel fermentations are the answer for slow oxygen integration and healthy natural fermentations. The interactions in chardonnay are very complicated. Just look at Burgundy’s reaction to the “pre-mox”. Many believe it was due to the introduction of contemporary winemaking techniques that work well for sauvignon blanc and other aromatic white varieties, but folks that used traditional techniques have found premox in their wines as well. All i can say is that yes Brandon, the winemaker absolutely considers oxygen exposure in the winemaking process. Each site/vineyard has it’s own inherent qualities that dictate these decisions and the style/direction we take.

I don’t think this is all very simple.

There was for a while a school of thought in German winemaking praising reductive wines. The “father” of this was Hans-Gunter Schwarz https://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/25/garden/out-of-obscurity-into-a-wine-pantheon.html He had a number of followers. I think this is not as popular in Germany as it once was (Schwarz has been retired for a number of years). The Muller-Catoir wines made by Schwarz had wonderful fruit young and got big scores (and were quite tasty) but the wines tended not to age that well. I remember a TBA from Rieslaner that was wonderful young but eventually turned very dark brown and lost all of its fruit.

I think there have been other German producers like Bernd Phillipi when he was at Koehler-Ruprecht that believed in introducing oxygen much more in the winemaking process.

I think I have even read that there are some white Burgundy producers that somehow want to oxidize out particles early on or some such thing (that I don’t really understand) and who believe that winemaking that is too reductive leads to premox. Hopefully, someone understands this better than I do.

I think this is the debate I was thinking of with regard to Burgundy. Obviously, Bobby understands it all much more than I do.

That’s the browning of the juice that Bobby referred to. If you don’t inhibit the oxidation at the must stage, some of the phenolic compounds settle out and aren’t available to oxidize years later. I believe that was fairly common on Burgundy. I know Matanzas Creek used to do that with their chardonnays when Dave Ramey was the winemaker.

I’ll gladly accept all of your Hans-Günter Schwarz era Müller-Catoirs for proper disposal. I’m down to my last few of the 1997 Mußbacher Eselhaut Rieslaner Ausleses and 1998 Mußbacher Eselhaut Riesling Eisweins, both of which have been very much alive in recent years.

Great post, my friend. And as with every other element in winemaking, your mileage and experience may vary - and probably will . . .

I personally don’t mind a bit of ‘reductive’ qualities in my wines. I’m not in the camp of ‘hyper reductive’ winemaking - but do tend to expose my wines to less rather than more oxygen exposure. For instance, I don’t rack my wines during elevage, preferring to keep them ‘tightly wound’ as long as possible rather than ‘opening them up’ during the aging process. but again, to each their own . . .

Keep it up, my friend.


What a friend of mine does - and he’s a big white Burg fan, with Coche-Dury as a model, as well as having worked for a couple board fave CA producers - is barrel age, then put in stainless for about 3 months. So, it gets all the benefits of oak aging, then turns a bit reductive before bottling.

My Hans-Günter Schwarz era Müller-Catoirs are long gone.

This is something Leflaive did during the Pierre Morey years, and I believe they gave it something more like 6 months in SS. Also, all the commentary I’ve come across regarding Coche Dury has them staying in barrel the entire 18 months prior to bottling.

to get really to the point of the post, its a style decision but not a quality decision. Whether its an indication for quality for you depends on whether you like reductive wines or not. I personally really like them (for chardonnay at least), along with some of the flavors and aromas that tend to go with steps along the way in the process of making a slightly reductive chardonnay like minimal racking. Ive always gotten the impression that it takes more attention to the process to make a wine thats slightly reductive, but I have a pretty strong feeling I could be proven wrong easily on that one.

I’ll have to bug him more. I certainly get the reductive style he’s going for (and, so far, so good). Not sure which specific producers do what he’s doing, but it sounded like there are several.

Tannins “sacrifice” for us? This is becoming quite theological all of a sudden. [worship.gif]


It seemed appropriate for Easter

This is a common practice, especially in riper years, to come out of barrel after about 10 months and go to stainless for the next 3 to 6 months.