Last night, I introduced my wine-loving friend to WineShop At Home’s Fiano, which is a white grape and wine that originated in the south of Italy. I told her that my favorite thing about this wine is its minerality. She laughed at me and asked what the heck I meant by minerality. After answering her in a not very eloquent way (I talked about its complexity, its nuances and its non-food flavors), I decided it’s time to do some research. This was a fun activity, because I found a ton of great articles on the topic. I wish I could have read all of them.
Minerality from a Scientific Point of View
Paul Adams, a senior science research editor at Cook’s Illustrated, wrote a great article on the topic in daily.sevenfifty.com. He starts out by talking about the minerals in the soil that the grapes are grown in – slate, chalk, stone. He then talks about minerals like potassium that vines absorb.
He leaves the best for last, talking about how minerality is used as a flavor descriptor. He talks about a combination of smell, taste, mouthfeel, acidity and aroma. Randall Grahm, “describes the perception as ‘a greater sensation of length on the palate and a certain aromatic reticence upon opening—or tightness or closed quality—seemingly indicating a far greater appetite for oxygen.’…He associates this reductive character with ‘the strong expression of soil characteristics.’”
Adams talks about studies done by sensory scientists where wines were given to wine professionals who had to choose the ones that they considered to have a lot of minerality. They then looked at the chemical composition that might correlate with the perceived minerality.
He said the results of the studies have been mixed. As an example, one study found certain types of acids to be associated with the term. Another didn’t. But it looks like many of the studies associate minerality with sulfur dioxide, as well as with some other sulfur compounds.
Dr. Vinny of WineSpectator does a great job of answering people’s questions. Here is his response to one such question. “Minerality is a tricky one to explain, but it refers to a group of non-fruit, non-herb, non-spice notes. Mineral notes can describe aroma or taste or both. Think of the taste of the sea that you get from crunchy sea salt or oysters. The smell of a sidewalk after it rains. Sometimes it’s like chalk—if you’ve ever stood next to a chalkboard, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it’s like crushed rocks or gravel. Saline and flint are other takes on minerality.”
What Does Decanter Have to Say?
Sarah Jane Evans from Decanter talks about the fact that there’s no clear definition of the term, that the term only started to be used in the 1980s, that it is used more for white wines than for red wines, and that less fruity, more acidic wines will get the label more often than fruity wines.
She says, “The wines being described as mineral are also generally described as ‘elegant’, ‘lean’, ‘pure’ and ‘acid’. They have a taste as if of licking wet stones and often a chalky texture to match…The assumption is that mineral wines are superior to ‘mass market’, New World, fruity wines. They have a romantic image, one that implies they are handmade by artisans and express the mystery of the soil, with the viticulturist as the magical mediator.”
I would love to hear your thoughts about minerality in wines. Do you look for that character when you’re tasting wine? Do you like those wines? Which are your favorites? Do you have a definition that works for you?
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Not knowing the term until I read your article, this is certainly not a feature I look for in wine. But I’ll try to pay more attention to it going forward.
It’s fun to look for!