Get used to it. In an otherwise perfect wine, that tiny faint hint of …what is that? Rotten eggs? Mildewed washcloth? Clam bog? Or maybe the wine’s just closed – you sense it has lots to give, but the aroma seems all zipped up like a computer file, and you can’t get at it. It’s not easy for the experienced connoisseur, to say nothing of the novice consumer, to switch gears into thinking of reductive strength as a mark of quality and ageworthiness.

The most interesting part of the wine business now is the move to living soil, climbing the ladder from sustainable to certified organic to biodynamics. These wines have very strong reductive energy, however, and involve substantial re-learning how wines behave on the part of both the winemaker and the consumer.

Despite a couple decades of horrendous problems finding our way, we are now, at least on occasion, making stunning wine without sulfites, and though I say it myself, the WineSmith 2003 Roman Syrah is a wonderful example. Our improving skill in handling tannin as an oxygen gobbler as well as an aromatic integrator, coupled with our new respect for the mineral energy imparted by living soil, is proving key in production of offerings which transcend the Plain Jane modern styles and get us back to wines of profound soulful expression which preserve themselves without chemical help. It’s a scary but exciting time.

Exacerbating the reductive strength balancing act associated with living wines is the new trend towards stelvin closures (screwcaps), which don’t breathe as corks do. The press has been wonderful about educating the public about corkiness, inconsistency, and the other wine quality reasons behind this trend. But while we get much less bottle variation from an absolute closure, the problem of reductive energy from organic practices is magnified. More re-learning!

A living wine has a juvenile phase, a mature phase, and an elderly phase. To age properly, it needs energy – a bit too much energy – in its youth. As Randall Grahm puts it, “If your 15 yr old son has no acne, and isn’t teasing girls and maybe even a little light shoplifting, he might not be happily married when he’s 65.” Wines are just like people, and you can expect a little bad behavior in a great wine in its youth. Usually a bit of breathing solves the problem – sometimes as much as a day.