User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

When Did “Fruity” Become A Dirty Word?

By Stephen Eliot

I admit it. I rather like my wines to taste of the fruit from which they are made, and I am not at all sure when being “fruity” became such a liability among the new wine cognoscenti.

Not long ago, I eavesdropped on a dinner-time conversation at a table near to mine in which two animate, very vocal wine drinkers were carrying on about the “minerality” expressed by their well-filled glasses of white wine as well as the wine’s praiseworthy lack of fruitiness. I had to smile, probably a bit too paternalistically, at how quickly the “M” word popped up, but I frankly expect it these days.

It was not the first time that I was struck that a disdain of “fruit” and the appreciation of “minerality” were worn as badges of sophistication, but the wine in question was a cheap Pinot Grigio, and the back-and-forth banter had the palpable air of rote recitation.

I suppose there is nothing new here. Almost as soon as California began to earn critical acclaim for its wines back in the 1970s, there were complaints aplenty that they were too fruity and too flavorful to be seen as legitimate peers to their ethereal European cousins. In recent years, however, the debate which had been largely the preoccupation of dyed-in-the-wool wines geeks has spilled over into the broader market of casual drinkers, and the debatable, patently indefinable term “minerality” seems to have become the thing upon which all vinous virtues hinge.

Much has been written about so-called “minerality” in wine, and there is absolutely no agreement about what it is, what might cause it and if it is even real. That, however, has done nothing to slow the growing notion that it is wine’s most noble achievement and the thing that above all should inform serious vintners and wine lovers alike. The imperatives of a particular terroir are championed by many as being far more important that varietal composition and the “fruit” of a particular grape. We should not be tasting Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, we should instead be tasting a place. That some wines may be “funky” or rife with shrill acidity and have all the charm of chewing on aluminum foil is just fine so long as they are not “fruity.”

In her recent revision of the very formidable Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil in trying to unravel the Gordian knot that is “minerality” writes that “for many wine professionals, however, a minerally wine is not only a wine with stony/minerally aromas and flavors; it’s also a wine that’s remarkable (italics added for emphasis) for its relative absence of fruit aromas and flavors.”

Now, I confess to finding a certain mineral-like twist to certain wines. “Flinty” and “steely” have always come to mind upon tasting a good Cru Chablis even though I have consumed neither. I fancy a touch of “slate” in great Mosel sites, and Cabernet from the right place can be laced with complexing elements of loamy soils, but, for me, there is a requisite need of fruity expression as well. I find nothing “remarkable” in a wine’s absence of fruit. It is the whole package that makes a fine wine truly complete.

The CGCW Experience - Take the Tour

Meet the New CGCW

For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions. Now, it is becoming the California winelover’s most powerful online voice as well. And, our new features provide an unmatched array of advice and information for aficionados of every stripe.

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.