Speaking of minerality

Q. When was ‘minerality’ first used in the context of the organoleptic attributes of a wine? A. In the 1970s, I feel in all probability is was by the French, as mineralité, as a somewhat mystical, ethereal way, to differentiate between wines, by association with soil type. Many have done this eg llicorella (Priorat), terra rossa (Coonawarra), belemnitic limestone (Champagne) and Kimmeridgian clay and limestone (Chablis).

Q. By whom?
A. I don’t know, yet.

Here are some related terms in use today:

  1. Wet stones – but it depends what organic materials are on the surface.
  2. Graphite – but is has no smell. I have seen allusion to pencil sharpenings possessing cedar and metallic notes – but the latter is a misnomer. In the 19th century a pencil lead used lead in its construction, the term remains in use today, but the material is a non-toxic baked blend of clay and graphite, in varying proportion to create a range of hardness, and so has no aromatic qualities.
    1. A prominent commentator recently (05/17) used graphite to convey a textural quality, but this is difficult to convey to most consumers, so why not use velvety or silky or just plain smooth? Why not indeed.
  3. Struck flint – it depends what one strikes it with ..
    1. Flint does not contain sulphur, it is a silica based material, sterile flint on sterile flint impact has no aroma.
    2. Steel/iron always contain some small amount of sulphur, and when impacting with flint can create a spark = heat, which oxidises some of that sulphur.
  4. Crushed rocks.
  5. Gravel.
  6. Chalkiness – now there is something in this, but on the nose … if an aroma has an apparent powdery/dusty character to it, I equate this to almond oil.

What do people think – an incremental list …

  1. Pinot file
  2. Wine doctor
  3. The minerality in wines. Cox J. Decanter Magazine, June 2008. [online]. Accessed 27/04/16.
  4. Minerality in wines, taken for granite. Karakasis, I. Palate Press, March 2012. [online]. Accessed 27/04/16.
  5. Taking our vitamins and minerality. Dawson, E. Palate Press, October 2009. [online]. Accessed 27/04/16
  6. Rescuing minerality. Goode, J. Wine Anorak, undated. [online]. Accessed 27/04/16.
  7. Minerality in wine: a geological perspective. Maltman, A. Journal of Wine Research, 24:3, 169-181, 2013, doi:10.1080/09571264.2013.793176
  8. The role of vineyard geology in wine typicity. Maltman, A. Journal of Wine Research, 19:1, 1-17, 2008, doi:10.1080/09571260802163998
  9. The Wine Society [1] and [2].
  10. Le Rouge & le Blanc interview with David Lefebre, winemaker, on minerality, in French. [online] Accessed 25/05/17.
  11. Rousselin, Y. (2017). Know and recognise minerality in wine in 5 steps (in French). [online]. Accessed 29/05/17.
  12. Easton S. (2013). Describing minerality. [online]. Accessed 11/07/17.

What do I think?

  1. It seems to be used as an umbrella term for high acidity, sulphur, lack of fruit – so why not say those instead? It does wine as a product and professional tasters no good in the eyes of the general consumer, who need clarity, not mystery and uncertainty.
  2. Minerality as shortness of fruit and sulphurous notes – that sounds like a fault to me. But not quite the same thing as petrol notes in aged rieslings – which I equate to lime.
  3. Stones do not have an aroma – one must do something with them, for example, striking a flint, but does flint on flint have an aroma? No.
  4. Wet stones – if a sterile stone is wet with distilled water and allowed to dry, does it have an aroma?  A stone in nature will have desiccated microscopic animal and vegetal remains on its surface, if this is wet with distilled water or water containing other animal/vegetal materials, these engender an aroma as they hydrate and then dry on the stone.
  5. Given the wine tasting notes which include the term, one could conclude that it is a cool climate, white wine phenomenon …
  6. … which means high acidity – but that has always been, from well before the 1970s.  So what has changed?
    • viticultural and winemaking techniques have evolved, from more traditional methods to more intensive farming, and reductive winemaking to avoid oxidation, is used to retain fruit, but can lead to sulphurous notes.
  7. Chalky – now that is a term that can be practical, in a way.  For example Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre can show a texture that seems powdery – but that could be described by any inert powder, rather than chalk.  But chalky or powdery needs careful use, as it can harp back to the misnomer that vine roots take up mineral content from the soil to feed directly into the flavour profile of a finished wine, and the Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre appellations are on limestone based soil – any link is complete tosh of course. Limestone has neither aroma nor flavour.
  8. More to follow, and others’ opinions to add …

Updated 11/07/17

About citbp

I am interested in everything about wine, from site selection to tasting.
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