How Do You Say The World Cup In French Are There Rocks in My Wine?

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Are There Rocks in My Wine?

For wine fans, the concept of “mineral” is confusing – especially since even the experts don’t agree on exactly what it means. Now we can all (or most of us anyway) agree on whether a scent is floral or fruity. But what exactly is minerality?

Minerality does not appear as a classification on Ann Noble’s Wheel of Wine (for the uninitiated, a wheel of aromas grouped into standard classifications – sort of the Neo-Wine Gnostic’s analog to the nerd engineer’s circular slide rule). Of course Dr Noble works for UC Davis in California, where we rarely need to mention minerality when describing local wines.

Firstly minerality isn’t even a real word, so that should give us some pause for thought before we try. Some vintners claim that this is the flavor expressed in the wine caused by the type of soil and the landscape of the vineyard. The grapes probably acquire a supply of minerals that reflect the mineral profile of the soil. It is claimed that the minerals in the soil are translocated from the roots and concentrated in the grapes. This unique profile of minerals then gives a unique flavor to wine from that vineyard.

It sounds good in theory, but completely ignores the fact that mineral ions first need to be absorbed into the roots by osmosis which will limit the concentration taken up. They then need an active transport mechanism to cross through the cell membrane into the endodermis, which controls what is taken in. As such there will probably not be significant variations in the mineral content in grapes from healthy plants of the same variety regardless of where they are grown.

A better definition of fertility is the absence of fertility. You are probably tasting the pure essence of the wine uninfluenced by those pesky aromatic esters. Maybe there is something to this. In New World climates, such as California, which have few fruit ripening problems, you rarely hear talk of minerality, except in wine made with grapes grown in cooler areas. Minerality is more often referred to when talking about European wines, especially wines from more difficult grape growing climates. In cool European climates with short growing seasons, winemakers need to harvest fruit rarely ripe at low sugar levels. Even in the best of times, the fruit will not reach anywhere near the level of ripeness found in California fruit. This results in lower alcohol levels and less aromatic complexity.

So in a sense, it is true that terroir plays a role in minerality. The energy of the vineyard’s soil and the local microclimate will determine the level of ripeness the grapes will reach at harvest which is determined more by when the frost comes in than the brix level (a measure of sugar concentration).

Now, what are the sensory perceptions of minerality according to the wine experts? Even among the experts, things are getting a little hazy. Descriptions range from the smell of fresh rain to the taste of wet stones. Basically any property that is not of fruit, vegetable (or animal) origin. I’ll have to take their word for that. Personally I don’t have much of a sensory memory of the taste of wet rocks – I stopped tasting rock at 2 or 3 years old. The best you can tell is that if a wine tastes pleasant enough and doesn’t exhibit many floral or fruity aromas, you can say it has a nice minerality.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It results in a style of wine that may be better for some food pairings – especially with more delicate ventures such as simply poached trout that would be overwhelmed by a highly aromatic wine. In this case you might even say “rocks of minerality.”

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