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Make Mine Minerality

By Stephen Eliot

Minerality. It is one of the au courant wine words of the day, but, until fairly recently, it was rather sparingly used. It is, however, a term that has been so widely and loosed employed of late that it is easy to question its value. It appears that we are not alone in such thoughts.

Our pick of last week’s blogs is a short, to-the-point piece from Beppi Crosariol published on line by Canada’s The Globe and Mail, “How Can a Wine Taste Like Stone?”1. In it, Mr. Crosariol offers up the following thoughts about the proliferation of the term in latter-day wine commentary,

“Flint, wet stone, chalk, limestone, slate, graphite – various rocky words get trotted out with increasing frequency today in the context of such wines as riesling, chardonnay (especially Chablis), sauvignon blanc and fine red Bordeaux. The wine-geek catch-all is “minerality,” which is always used in a laudatory way. It’s purely a metaphorical conceit, though, as I’ve stressed in past columns. The mineral content in wine is well below the threshold of human perception, as rock scientists declared years ago at a meeting of the Geological Society of America.

“Minerality,” although a useful term for conveying suggestions of flavours, textures and aromas, should not be taken literally. As several geologists have stressed to me, vine roots simply are incapable of extracting aromatic compounds from hard rock, let alone transporting them directly to grapes. That’s just not the way plants grow, despite romantic wine-geek notions to the contrary. Stone in wine? It’s blarney.”

We would not disagree, a least to a point. We, too, are familiar with the many viticultural scientists who patiently and repeatedly explain that, “no, grape vines do not work that way”; they are incapable of transmitting specific minerals from the soils in which they grow into the grapes that they bear.

But blarney? Maybe not. While the concept of minerality should not, as Beppi says, be taken literally in trying to analyze, quantify and scientifically explain a wine’s character and quality, the terms and its related forms such as “stony,” “ flinty,” “ chalky,” etc., remain valid and at times very useful words in the winetaster’s lexicon. Whether or not the manifold manifestations of minerality are, as has been suggested, the creations of acidity, yeast, various sulphur compounds or the product of the infinite combinations of each, does it really matter so much how they got there? Do they really need to be explained?

I recall many years back when a noted California winemaker made an expensive and painstaking attempt quantify wine’s chemical composition by way of gas chromatography, and, if memory serves, the exercise raised as many questions as it answered and was abandoned without reaching much in the way of useful conclusions. I recall at the time feeling a genuine sense of relief insofar as I could not abide the idea that great wine could be reduced to an absolute chemical formula and thus be replicated in the lab. The thought still scares me now.

Now, in truth, Mr. Crosariol does not deny that minerally traits exist in wine. He, in fact, closes his article with the question “want to taste minerality?” and then goes on to suggest a couple of wines that he believes demonstrate that very thing. He simply argues that you cannot blame the soil the next time you taste something like flint or wet stones in your favorite tipple. I think we would both agree that how a wine can taste like stone is far less significant than the fact that it can.



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by TomHill
Posted on:5/20/2014 9:28:58 AM

Interesting post, Steve...and one I pretty much agree with you on. "Minerality", like "balanced" or "phenolic"  (or pornography) is something we can't always define...but we can (sometimes/oftentimes) recognize it. How it got there (and I agree, the roots can't directly transport the soil minerals into the grape (and wine's aroma & taste) is not the issue, but learning to recognize it is.

   ClarkSmith, in his book "Post-Modern Winemaking", devotes a whole chapter on "Minerality in Wine". Having read it three times now, I'm still not sure I understand his definition. But I can sure as heck recognize it in the Idlewild Arneis and the Solminer Gruner I tried last week.



by Geoff Weaver
Posted on:5/21/2014 5:29:16 PM

Interesting article but I think there is another view of minerality worth consideration. My thought is that minerality is derived from naturally low pH of the wine rather than mineral derived flavour compounds.

The gentle natural austerity of low pH wines gives a distinctly mineral impression. This  is in contrast to the sharpness (and hardness) of high titrateable acid wines. 

In our vineyard at Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills we grow our vines without irrigation in a cool environment and have natural pH levels as low as 2.9 without high titrateable acids and I feel it confers that lovely, fine, savoury mineral edge. As the vines have become older the natural pH levels have dropped also. They are now 30 years old.

No Subject
by Adrian Landon-Lane
Posted on:5/21/2014 11:25:32 PM

"minerality" I think is a myth and another "excusive" word for wines made from unripe grapes or certainly grapes harvested at very low brix and low ph.

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