Minerality - Let perception be reality
Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Are there minerals in your wine and can you taste them? That’s a hotly debated question that, for me, brings out the very nature of wine. It was described in one article I read as the umami of the wine world - not one of the identifiable tastes, but it's there all the same.
Are there rocks in my wine?
When approached from a scientific perspective the answer is, no. "The science is quite clear that the vine is not literally picking up minerals from the soil and transferring them into the wine," says Santa Barbara-based geologist Brenna Quigley. She notes that minerality is also used to describe both aromas or flavors and textures in wine, complicating the matter further.
Vines don’t actually absorb minerals from the ground. So says author of Vineyards, Rocks and Soils, Alex Maltman, professor emeritus of earth sciences at Aberystwyth University in Wales. He points to the fact that roots only absorb water and any elements that have been dissolved into the water. Which means rather than slate or limestone, a root is simply absorbing water with dissolved basic elements like potassium or calcium.
As mentioned in one of our other posts, the science indicates that it’s the processes of fermentation and aging that create the “minerality” in a wine. It’s how these interactions with the unique compounds a type of vine metabolizes naturally, and how those compounds change during fermentation and aging, that create new compounds with flavors and aromas we perceive to be minerals.
Sure, but it tastes minerally to me.
On the other hand, there are many in the wine world that point to the concept of terroir as the exact proof for minerality. That the effects of place on the vines and the fruit that they produce are distinct and can be recognized. And that this includes compositions of soils imparting minerality.
As tasters, we are clearly capable of recognizing mineral aromas and flavors. Experiments at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia show that we are able to not only taste minerals, but to taste differences in types of minerals.
So in the end we ask - does it matter? As wine lovers we experience a variety of aromas and flavors in the wines we taste. And we do so as individuals. No two people taste exactly the same thing in a wine.
I don’t care what the science says, if we smell wet stone or taste graphite then it’s there for us at least. So let your perception be the reality for minerality in wine. I love it, and if you do too, you might look for these aspects in a wine to help you find it:
Cooler climate - less ripeness tends to highlight minerality
Higher acidity and usually more prominent in whites
Less use of oak allows more mineral aroma and flavors
Stone or concrete fermentation vessels
Terroir that characteristically highlights minerality
To read more expert opinions on the subject check out:
Understanding Perceived Minerality in Wine
Nailing the Myth of minerality