What is Minerality? The First Part of a Modest Inquiry

What does it mean for a wine to have a component that expresses minerality?  Those who support the notion that minerality exists believe that it manifests itself in the aromas and flavors of a wine as it exhibits notes associated with certain stony, earthy or other soil characteristics.  Other Mineralites believe that the “tension,” “nerviness” or “grit” in a wine represents minerality.  Perhaps the most famous example being the “chalkiness” that jumps out of a glass of Grand Cru Chablis.  At the other end of the spectrum are the Anti-Mineralites – those, for various reasons, who debunk the idea that minerality exists as they believe it’s impossible for earthy elements to directly find their way into a grape and subsequently into a bottle of wine.  For instance, the anti-minerality camp does not believe that “slatey-ness” is expressible in Rieslings from the Mosel.  What then, is the taster perceiving when he puts his nose in a terroir-driven offering?

What I am going to attempt here, over the course of any number of ruminative posts is to explore what we mean by minerality and if it does in fact exist in wine.   What, as Randall Grahm asks, is the mechanism by which minerality expresses itself in a glass of wine?  I dare not offer an essay of sorts – I have neither the patience nor the time to sit and write thousands of words at once.  However, I am going to take whatever knowledge I have, both from the bottle and the book, and combine that with different newly found references in books, blogs and winemaker accounts in an attempt to shed light on the subject.  There are far more qualified and learned minds already working on the question of the existence of minerality – I simply want to read what they have to offer and discuss anything that they might have overlooked or misunderstood along the way.  This is also a journey into a bit of my own philosophy – I firmly believe that slate, limestone, chalk, volcanic and other soils can be perceived in a finished wine.  Have I fallen for a bit of romantic vinous philosophy?

Below is a crude sketch I put together last week as Randall Grahm and wine writer Howard G. Goldberg pondered the mechanism by which minerality expresses itself as a sense of place in wine.  I have the artistic ability of my 4 year old niece, but I think it’s a good jumping off point for how I currently understand how minerality might find its way into a wine.

How Does It Get There?