Updated 2009-03-19 20:54:04 ID=345:0

© 2009 The Romantic Table
©2009 The Romantic Table 2009-02-17 09:52:55:123
©2009 The Romantic Table

Larry McGourty writes about wine and food

Are There Rocks in My Wine?

Fans of European wines in particular frequently use the term minerality to describe a wine. So what exactly is minerality?

For fans of wine, the concept of "minerality" is confusing -especially since even the experts do not agree exactly on what it means. Now we all (or most of us anyway) can agree on whether an aroma is floral or fruity. But what exactly is minerality?

Minerality does not appear as a classification on Ann Noble's Wine Wheel (for the uninformed, a wheel of aromas grouped into standard classifications - kind of the Neo-Wine Gnostic's analog to the nerd engineer's circular slide rule). Of course Dr. Noble works for UC Davis in California, where we rarely have the need to mention minerality when describing local wines.

First of all minerality isn't even a real word, so that should give us a little pause to think before we trudge on. Some viticulturists claim that it is the taste expressed in the wine caused by the soil type and terroir of the vineyard. Presumably the grapes acquire a complement of minerals which mirror the mineral profile of the soil. Allegedly the minerals in the soil are translocated from the roots and concentrated in the grapes. This unique profile of minerals then gives a wine from that vineyard a unique flavoring.

Sounds good in theory, but completely ignores the fact that mineral ions need to be absorbed first into the roots by osmosis will limit the concentration what is taken up. Then they need an active transport mechanism to cross through the cell membrane into the endodermis, which regulates what is taken in. Consequently there probably will not be significant variations in mineral content in the grapes of healthy plants of the same variety no matter where grown.

A better definition of minerality is of absence of fruitiness. Presumably you are tasting just the pure essence of the wine uninfluenced by those pesky aromatic esters. There may be something to this. In New World climes, like California, which have few problems ripening fruit, you very rarely hear mention of minerality, except in wine made with grapes grown in cooler areas. Minerality is more often referred to when speaking of European wines, especially wines from more difficult grape growing climates. In cool European climates with short growing seasons, wine makers need to harvest barely ripe fruit at low sugar levels. Even in the best of times, the fruit will not reach anywhere the level of ripeness found in California fruit. This results in lower alcohol levels and reduced aromatic complexity.

So in a sense, it is true that terroir does play a role in minerality. The vigor of the vineyard soil and the local microclimate is going to determine to what level of ripeness the grapes will reach at harvest time which is determined more by when the frost sets in than brix level (a measure of sugar concentration).

Now, what are the sensory perceptions of minerality according to the wine experts? Even among the experts, things get a little fuzzy. Descriptions range from the smell of fresh rain to the flavor of wet stones. Basically any property that is not fruit, vegetable (or animal) in origin. I will have to take their word for it. Personally I do not have much of a sensory memory of the taste of wet rocks - I gave up my rock tasting at the age of 2 or 3. The best you can say is that if a wine tastes pleasant enough and does not exhibit much floral or fruit aroma, you can say it has a nice minerality.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, It results in a style of wine that may be better for some food parings -in particular with more delicate entrees like a simply poached trout which would be overwhelmed by a highly aromatic wine. In this case you might even say "minerality rocks."

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