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.
Are there any anti-mineralites who are well-regarded in the bio/chem/wine fields whose writings you can point us to? I’ve read only a couple of things on that side of the subject and saw flaws in their reasoning.
Here is a link to a conference that was held in Oregon in 2009. One of the hot button topics was terroir with a solid debate about minerality intertwined. I am not working much this week, so I am going to go through my old folders and start gathering up Anti-Mineralite resources. I wish I paid more attention to what I read in the past, but it won’t take me long to start putting up links to the good stuff.
It is great to come across your blog. As soon as I can, I want to work through your articles. You may be interested in my philosophy in assembling The Spanish Artisan Wine Group™ – Gerry Dawes Selections™, “a collection of wines has been carefully chosen by recognized Spanish wine expert Gerry Dawes from selected artisans dedicated to producing wines that reflect the uniqueness of their vineyard sites, grapes, soil and climate. Our wines are authentic reflections of their terruño (terroir) or sense of place and taste the way their producers think they ought to taste.” My experiences in France over many years in many regions and in France, especially in Galicia and in Priorat, have convinced me of minerality’s presence in many of the greatest wines I have ever had the privilege of drinking.