Minerality, the Swiss Army knife for the taste of wine? | New Brief #212

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Britt Karlsson and Per Karlsson, BKWine

Sometimes the spell check program tells you that the word you have used in a text is “overused” and that you should “consider using another word”. This is often a good observation. A varied choice of words makes a text more interesting to read. There is a special place for “minerality” and everything that has to do with minerals in that recommendation. Everyone seems to use “minerality”, and no one seems to agree on what it means.

Since the word “minerality” was introduced in the wine tasting vocabulary perhaps around 15 years ago, there has been an unparalleled focus on minerals. In older wine books, the word does not exist. Producers, wine tasters and not least marketers now use the term indiscriminately. Every other wine that I read about is described with the word mineral in some form. It can be “touch of minerality”, “integrated backbone of minerals”, “calcareous minerals”, “austere minerality”. I have been most puzzled by “floral minerality” and “creamy minerality”.

It is no longer just chablis, champagne and the occasional riesling that are given the epithet. Now people give it to both white and red wines, in different styles and price ranges.

There is inflation in minerality.

Strictly speaking, minerals can be two things. Minerals are, in the geological sense, rocks such as limestone, granite, basalt, schist, etc. Basically, any kind of rock. It can also be a mineral in the sense of nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, etc. Both are important for vines and wine lovers alike. But that mineral means two different things, makes it complicated.

When we read that wines come from soils with “lots of minerals”, “interesting minerals”, “rich in minerals”, etc., we can probably assume that the writer mean the nutrients, although it is often not clear what the writer actually means. Mineral nutrients nourish the vine. To say that the soil contains lots of minerals is another way of saying that it is nutritious. A soil rich in minerals is nutrient-rich soil. The vine does not have to go hungry. To say “a poor but mineral-rich soil” doesn’t make much sense.

But there is a third use, the one that this text is really about: mineral or minerality as a taste descriptor. Used as a wine tasting term, it is probably more the geological meaning of the word that is in the mind of the taster. Probably. It is hard to believe that they mean that the wine tastes like phosphorus and magnesium. It is more likely (although it sounds strange), that they mean that the wine tastes like granite or slate.

But rocks and minerals have no taste.

The word is, of course, a metaphor for something. I have asked people what they mean by minerality. Some say saltiness (although it is highly unusual to find salt in wine), others say freshness, wet stones, flint. Maybe they see rocks, cliffs, the big Ocean in front of them when they drink certain wines. Perhaps they sense something cool, crispy, steely. But how does that fit with floral or creamy minerality?

Maybe minerality means a particular stringency in the wine, an opposite of softness? Something that lifts the wine and gives it vitality. Perhaps the reader will be none the wiser by that description. And maybe minerality means something entirely different for some. So, how should you interpret the word “minerality”?

Personally, I (Britt) have stopped using the word. I want the reader to get an understanding of what I mean.

This month’s Brief is about the climate, among other things. About how climate change is positive for some. About how the climate can cause significant problems (with cold frosty nights). How the climate has given a good quality harvest in 2021 (in the southern hemisphere).

About the brand-new German wine law. A new grape profile (sauvignon blanc). About different kinds of yeast. And a few producers who make excellent wines.

And much more.

Spring is in the air, and the warm weather is on its way. Life will improve even more as people get their vaccines.

Are you longing for a tour in the vineyards? Longing to visit a wine region and enjoy outstanding wines and good food?

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More about the wine tours in the Brief.

Enjoy the Brief!

Britt & Per

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André Perret showing a sample of "gores" soil, Condrieu, Saint Joseph, Rhone Valley
André Perret showing a sample of "gores" soil, Condrieu, Saint Joseph, Rhone Valley, copyright BKWine Photography

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