I’ve been on a bit of ‘what’s all this about minerality?’ mission over the last year, trying to get to the truth of our limited knowledge on the subject. This is so far expressed in two articles written for The Drinks Business magazine (a monthly trade publication).
What follows are some thoughts of winery people I have quizzed on my various research visits, along with dates, so the comments can be put into the perspective of our evolving knowledge on the subject of minerality in wine. These comments are unfined, unfiltered, uncategorised, not that we yet possess the knowledge to categorise minerality.
A few developing themes, make of them what you will, not all highlighted in the following quotes, include
- linking minerality and acidity.
- linking minerality and ageworthiness.
- linking minerality and (bed)rock.
- linking minerality and complexity.
- linking minerality and freshness.
- linking minerality and tannin.
- linking minerality and terroir.
- suggestions that not all grape varieties have the potential to express minerality.
Olivier Humbrecht, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Alsace, France. November 2009
“You cannot smell minerals as they are not volatile. Salt is associated with other molecules, for example iodine, which is volatile. Minerality is more a palate sensation than an actual smell. If a wine is going towards more undergrowth, earthy, it goes to more mineral. The brain does not associate fruit with minerality.”
Minerality “leaves your palate more salty than sweet. And it’s more difficult to see it on sweet wines than dry wines, as sugar will hide it. Also the tannins of oak will cover or overpower a sense of minerals on the palate.”
It’s a “sensation on the palate. You can also sometimes detect it in a way of pH. Acidity potential might reflect how minerals have reacted with the wine. A higher pH, if not caused by a fault, such as rot or dilution, for me, is that soil is more present in the wine. The more minerals in the wine, pH increases.”
Wolfgang Klotz, marketing and sales manager at Cantina/Kellerei Tramin, Alto Adige, Italy, November 2009.
“If I smell stony, chalky, and stones banging together, and the wine is dry and crisp, this I think of as minerality. The topsoil is chalky, and 1-2 metres below is volcanic porphyry. Porphyry gives lot of minerality. You could age wines up to ten years and more.”
Klaus Gasser, sales director at Cantina/Kellerei Terlan, Alto Adige, Italy, November 2009.
The mountain “Tschögglberg is porphyry, a quartz porphyritic rock, high in minerals, with a high silicate concentration, like in Pouilly-Fumé with silex. There’s a high mineral concentration in the soils. Minerality in the wines is a salty note, and great ageing potential.”
Martin Aurich, general manager at Weingut Unterortl, Alto Adige, Italy, November 2009.
“Minerality is a certain amount of acid, acid which is not sour; a positive acid which requires another sip. It’s like a game in your mouth – acid, tannin, sugar.”
Franz-Joseph Loacker, sales manager at Tentute Loacker, Alto Adige, Italy. November 2009.
“Minerality comes from the stones and from the power of the soil, from the terroir, and what we have in the soil. Some grapes such as sauvignon blanc have minerality; other grapes do not, such as gewürztraminer, which goes more in the sweet direction.”
Willi Bründlmayer of Weingut Bründlmayer in Kamptal, Austria, June 2009.
“In spring, the terraces are soaked with rainfall. Water remains hidden in clefts of the rock, and takes up minerals. Vine roots need water. But the taste is something different. For me, the wines are not too alcoholic, they lack creaminess and softness. I feel a slight roughness, a substance and structure but different from the substance and structure tannins give.”
Hannes Hirsch of Weingut Hirsch in Kamptal, Austria, June 2009.
“Minerality is like an extra layer of Maldon sea salt, which bubbles and explodes on your tongue. Heiligenstein has a smokey nose, like banging stones together. As grüner veltliner and riesling wines get more powerful, they lose their fruit definition. Minerality comes through as a tension on the tongue.”
Andi Kollwentz of Weingut Kollwentz-Römerhof in Burgenland, Austria, June 2008.
“Minerality comes from the soil but it’s not a chemical influence, it’s a physical influence, it’s stoney. If you get the grapes in the right state, and you don’t interfere with the wine in the cellar, you get an impression of minerality: fine, fragrant fruit, but not bold, and a spiciness, not from oak.”
Alvaro Palacios of Alvaro Palacios in Priorat, Spain, April 2009.
“Minerality is exactly as you see in the slate or granite soils. There are huge levels of minerals and metals. When you lick them you can feel that. Vegetal tannins are normally very fat, and mild, gentle, soft. Minerality is different. It’s something tiny and vertical that dries out: micro-particles. It’s a blend of tannin and minerality.”
René Barbier of Clos Mogador in Priorat, Spain, April 2009.
For Barbier, minerality “is all to do with terroir.” Of his Clos Manyetes wine, he said the “wine is built on the basis of terroir; the minerality and tannins are interwined. When wine is created on a more technical basis, the tannins are clearly defined. With terroir and minerality the tannins are intertwined.”
Sara Pérez of Mas Martinet in Priorat, Spain, April 2009.
“Minerality in Priorat is complicated to understand sometimes. Minerality is all the aromatic components of the soil – liquorice, iron, non-organic things that you can find in wine. You never have liquorice or iron on calcareous soil. The floral and fruity elements are the climate and the grape variety.”
Jürgen Wagner, winemaker at Celler de Capçanes, Montsant, Spain, April 2009.
“Minerality adds some astringency. Minerality disguises. It gives a feeling of a higher level of acidity. It is a certain saltiness; the graphite of lead pencil. For me it means nerviness, liveliness, even astringency.”
Duncan Savage, winemaker at Cape Point Vineyards, South Africa, March 2009.
“Minerality is the most abused tasting term. It’s a perception, an holistic picture. You identify with the soil, and feel like you’re tasting what you see in the soil. This is minerality by association.”
Neil Ellis of Neil Ellis Wines, South Africa, March 2009.
“Minerality is a term to describe a certain feel in a wine, not massive, not big, more elegant. On chardonnay I use ‘restraint’.”
Andrew Gunn of Iona, South Africa, March 2009
“Minerality is flintiness, wet stones, chalk rocks.”
Bevan Johnson, manager of Newton Johnson Wines, South Africa, March 2009.
“Minerality is the poise of the finish. Minerality brings a freshness from mid palate to the finish; a freshness that’s not just acidity. An harmonious finish that’s fresh.”
Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen of Oak Valley Wines, South Africa, March 2009.
“Minerality is a product of the soil, and is something at the back of the wine, a flintiness, a complexity lurking at the back.”