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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crushed Rocks
Karen MacNeil, a welcome new contributor to, has posed a straight forward question on her forum to one of wine's most loosely defined terms. The question being, what is minerality? One of the issues in deciphering wine criticism, or winespeak in general, is the nature of its subjectivity and ambiguous vocabulary. While the lexicon of terms, such as minerality, are used interchangibly amongst geeks and gurus alike, you are likely to get a different definition for each element from each writer. Perhaps all wine authors of any capacity owe it to their viewing audience to define just what they mean when writing these wacky words?
Least I can do is weigh in my personal impressions when it comes to minerality. As other terminologies come to the forefront, I'll happily disclose just what I mean by whatever winespeak that may be.
  • Minerality is a bit of a catch all definition that can encompass just about any particular mineral. Salt and iron quickly come to mind as trace minerals we note in wines that manifest themselves in either: fleur de sel, beef's blood or a metallic note. I personally don't broadly don't define a wine as 'minerally' if it is a primal, blood infused beast, but it technically would make sense to a degree.
  • To me, minerality is most profoundly defined as a textural nuance. The phrase 'it feels like you are licking a limestone' ie: in Chablis, is a perfectly apt description to appreciate minerality in an extreme form. Whites like Old World Chardonnay, Dry Riesling and Loire Chenin Blanc make this tangible sense of 'crushed rock' easy to note, where tannic reds that possess this attribute are tougher to gauge (because their other complex textures may obscure underlining mineral definition). I do find it a touch odd that some will note that they 'smell minerals,' but when thinking of hot stones, there is certainly a steamy rock/smoky slate element that I can relate to.
  • Thin skinned grapes tend to manifest minerality in a much more transparent fashion. Whether or not this is solely due to the size of their skins is up for debate, but reds like Gamay, Grenache and Pinot Noir (assuming they aren't heavily oaked or massive palate busters) pick up mineral nuances w/ much more clarity than denser varieties. Whites, particularly the leaner and more lightly wooded variety, make it even easier for the taster to perceive the man, the myth, the minerality...
  • Acidity and minerality certainly seem to be correlated, as fatter, more robust fruit tends to suppress mineral notes.
  • Salinity, to me, seems to be highly correlated to site (much like minerality, as it is quite often attributed to limestone soils). Muscadet, for example, is loaded w/ sea salt notes and is proximal to the nearby breezes of the Atlantic. Melon de Bourgogne, the grape used for Muscadet wines, may pick up the salty notes more readily due to its thin skins. On a side note, there has been quite a bit of controversy as to whether or not maritime based Scotches are more likely to pick up sea salt notes due to their oceanic proximity....

For more tales of mineral fact and fiction, tune into EBob and welcome Karen to the board.


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