This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term.
Minerality (adj.) Tasting Term
I often use this term in my tasting notes. It describes a wine's terroir, like flint in Sancerre, chalk in Chablis, combined with a texture derived from those soils, high acidity and a cool growing climate. Or so I thought. To be honest, the term has been useful in many instances where more specific metaphors did not quickly come to mind, and so I've used it as a blanket descriptor for high acid, low pH whites that are not exceptionally fruity. Some tasters apply the term to certain red wines as well. And I'm not the only one. A fellow industry hand recently shared aloud that she can "always pick out the limestone," which I thought was a bit much. The term is a relatively new vogue (circa 1980s) among wine professionals, writers and enthusiasts, but is so common that most people have a pretty good idea of what it means. Some of us have even licked rocks and sucked dirt to understand. But a new study says that's bogus; we can't literally taste or smell the actual stoniness in a vineyard's soil composition as expressed in a wine.
It's true that vines send their roots deep into the earth, extracting water, nutrients and minerals. That's what plants do. But the chemical analysis part of the study diffused the possibility of minerals showing out in the glass. The parts per million of these trace minerals are undetectable. Instead, the study found that a combination of chemical components produces the minerality effect, and those compounds can be found in both grapes and wine. In other words, some of those chemical compounds occur naturally in the fruit and some of them are byproducts of the fermentation process. Great. Now what?!
I've read some wine professionals' declaration to be more mindful with their descriptors, employing specifics like wet rock, chalk, and slate. I'm not sure it matters, especially if it's untrue, according to science. But it translates well and so I will continue to use it. Wine tasting adjectives are 99% metaphor, so as long as your audience gets it, mineral all you want to.
Do you use the term minerality to describe wines? What does it mean to you? Does this study make you want to find a new lexicon? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. I want to know!