Friday, May 10, 2024

Mineral Tastes in Wine----HUH?

                              Bordeaux's iconic Graves district is named for its "gravel" soil 

If you are a wine geek, the above title will most likely elicit an enthusiastic response such as “totally.”  But, if you’re a regular human being (even a wine-lover) you will undoubtedly think, “Huh---wine tastes like rocks?”  The answer is yes…and no.  Let me explain.

The influence of minerality in the smell & taste of wine is found in the earth inorganic portion of the                                                                             sensory wheel

Yes, wine professionals are now using “mineral” terms to describe a wine.  You may see it in descriptor words such as “flinty,”  “gun metal,”  “pencil lead,” "steely," or even “wet stone.”  While wine does not, of course, taste like rocks some wines have a kind of stoniness.   Which begs the question:  who in the world ever tastes a rock?  The answer is, "I do!"  Years ago I was in a vineyard at the foot of the Andes in Argentina when the winemaker said to our group, “Find a rock, pick it up, and lick it.”  He wasn’t kidding so I did.  He then proceeded with an impromptu discussion on the mineral tastes in wine.  That was nearly 20 years in the past and I’ll never forget it.  (By the way, I tasted saltiness in my rock.)

                                              Umami is a Japanese word meaning "savory"

Think of minerality as the umami of the wine world.  Umami is the term for savoriness (mushrooms, miso, soy sauce, parmigiano-reggiano).   The fifth basic taste, it is not sweet, sour, salty nor bitter.  Try to describe umami.   It’s hard to describe, right?   Furthermore, some people experience the umami minerality in the nose of a wine.  Others, experience the umami minerality in the taste.

  Riesling is one of the varieties that best demonstrate mineralty in wine (the other is Chablis made in                                                             France from Chardonnay)

The million-dollar question is how does this mineral mystery taste get into wine?  We know emphatically that it is not from the minerals in the vineyard soil being absorbed by the vine. (Just as we know that other flavors found in wine….such as strawberries & grassiness, are not from the soil but are a by-product of fermentation).   Researchers are trying to unlock the minerality issue.  In the meanwhile, why not taste a rock to see what you think?  Or, simply purchase a dry Riesling or a French Chablis and have a go at it. These two types of wine offer compelling minerality.


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