There are few terms in the Grand Lexicon of Wine Geeks that perplexes regular wine-loving people more than the word: minerality. It is word I avoid in most discussions, just to avoid the difficult task of defining it. The closest suggestion my spell-check can come up with for minerality is “immorality.” (I’ll let readers make the connection between these two words.)
Let me testify that minerality exists in wine, but, unfortunately, in the same way that the Higgs-Boson particle exists—it’s a concept that’s hard to get your mind around. Once you know it’s there, however, it changes things forever.
“So are there rocks in my wine?” Not an unusual question from customers for whom I’ve tried to stammer out an explanation. My best shot at putting words to this flavor-like wine sensation is this: Minerality in wine gives the taster a sense of being outside on a cement sidewalk just after a warm spring rain. It is that ozone-like, clean, fresh aroma. A colleague at the wine shop likes to say: “It’s like chewing on rocks.” I’m not crazy about that image, but it speaks to the challenges of defining the expression.
You can find minerality in many wines and wine regions around the world. Pinot gris/grigios, un-oaked chardonnays, pinot noirs, sauvignon blancs and rieslings seem to absorb the mineral characteristics of their vineyards best. Chablis, Champagne, the Loire Valley, Alsace, the Mosel, northeastern Italy, northwestern Spain, western Paso Robles, Santa Barbara and the Sonoma Coast are just a few of the locales around the globe that have cornered the minerality market.
Minerality is closely linked to soil composition, or at least that wine folks say. Wine geeks, who live and work amongst us, assert that regions with large deposits of calcium or slate bless their wines with mineral-like qualities. Scientists have a word for this theory: Bo-Gus! Plant material cannot transfer minerals in the soil into the grapes and then into the finished wine.
The truth about minerality, in my opinion, lies somewhere in between. While I can’t offer up any scientific evidence, I have faith that some “thing” somehow is in my glass. This “thing” has to have a label, right? Minerality works for me. As for proof, I just chalk it up to one of wine’s many mysteries.
Why do we care about minerality anyway? Mineral-laden wines have a unique tension and energy about them. For me, wines with mineral qualities have an elixir-like vitality to them. And while it may be hard for one to fathom a mineral-powered glass of wine, once you pick up on this nuance, you can’t put it back in the box. And if you’re like me, the next time you raise a sauvignon blanc from the Sancerre region of France’s Loire Valley to your lips, you’ll be mining that glass for minerality with the hope of striking it rich.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a consultant for a metro-Atlanta wine shop. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
— Gil Kulers, AJC Drink blog