Minerality in wine. What is it?

People use in their tasting descriptions for wines terms like “stony”, “chalky”, “smoky”, “flinty”, “salty”, “earthy”, “oily”… And, on occasion, even “aromas and flavors of wet rock” to describe what is labeled as minerality in a wine.

But what does that really mean? Where does it come from? It’s a known fact that the geological minerals cannot be taken up by the roots and convey these flavors and/or aromas to the wine. And, even if they were absorbed by the roots as component ions, it seems that the concentration of these minerals (mineral nutrients such as potassium, copper, sodium, calcium, etc) would be too low to taste.

So what do you think is the ultimate source of minerality in wine?

Cheers,

Luiz Alberto, #winelover

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16 Responses to Minerality in wine. What is it?

  1. Tom Lewis (@CambWineBlogger) May 21, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    Hi Luiz – I’ve had a few discussions with people on what minerality is and whether it even exists. I use it to mean “a flavour or perception of wet stones”, but there are other meanings and interpretations.

    I also feel strongly that soil type influences flavour and minerality – compare a Gruener grown on granite to one grown on loess and the difference is quite pronounced; the one grown on granite has a distinctly mineral, granite-like flavour whereas the loess-grown wine feels softer and fleshier. In my experience, at least.

    Quentin Sadler has written an interesting piece on this topic: http://quentinsadler.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/minerality-in-wine-flight-of-fantasy-fact-or-terroir/

  2. Luiz May 21, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Thanks Tom! I agree with you that different soils cause different perceptions of minerality in the wines. However, the question still remains… hpw does it get there? In the mean time all check the article from Quentin… Cheers!

  3. Christian Callec May 21, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Nice and quite tricky question, Luiz. Quite a lot of people on both sides do suffer of a kind of black or white tunnel vision and are – in my humble opinion – too much overreacting. Strange enough, I never heard/read someone doubting of the minerality of a real mineral water… How comes?

    I do think a few things, I am just a #winelover, not a scientist, not an oenologist…

    – The ‘minerality’ you do smell with your nose seems not to come from the soil, but probably from the lees, the yeasts or what ever else.
    – The ‘minerality’ you smell in a retro-olfactory way and taste in the finish of the wine might probably have something to do in a way or another with the soil, but may be not only.
    – A very interesting case in Muscadet, Clos de l’Écu, will make some serious people doubt… same grape, 3 different soils, 3 totally different wines: gneiss, granite, orthogneiss. Can you smell that ‘minerality’? No… I don’t think so. Can you taste it? Yes, but how? Is it a question a few percent of minerals that you taste? Are those tiny quantities linked with other molecules and keep their taste characteristics? I can’t tell you…
    – Scientific approach is not always the best judge… Science without intuition is just blind. A problem of many scientists and wannabe followers is that they are blinded by science and seem to think (or mostly repeat) the way they learnt from people who learnt it long time ago from others who did it even much longer ago. If scientists would start to use their intuition and communicate in a much more inter-collegial way, they could learn a lot more from each other and use other instruments than what they always use.
    – Answering that ‘minerals in wine are in too low quantity to be felt’ (olfactory or by taste) is not a scientific answer… it is only based on the instruments the ones saying that always use to make their measures. They are not open to other ways of thinking and measuring. Why do you think that some institutions worldwide are giving so much interest in THE MEMORY OF WATER…? Just for fun? I don’t think so… Some time ago, I followed a very interesting discussion around volcanic wines during the Vulcania event in Soave. On my weblog (http://www.christiancallec.com/blog/2012/06/28/vulcania-soave-2012-and-more-5/#more-7091) I wrote this comment:

    “I do agree with Richard Baudains (Decanter) that the communication must be much more based on ‘what is in the glass’… Don’t write too much about ‘terroir’ but more about the ‘taste’ of the wine… Look for the common denominator for Soave wines from volcanic soil and communicate about those taste characteristics. Monica Larner (Wine Enthusiast) pleaded ‘enthusiastically’ for ‘minerality’, because minerality is what makes the real difference between wines all over the world…

    That is definitely true for me, but listening to the amount of negative reactions of some well-known British and Dutch wine experts about minerality as wishful thinking and not always linked to the own terroir minerality… I wonder if it will work. I do agree with her, totally, as I don’t understand why those wine authorities do accept the ‘mineral saltiness’ of mineral water but don’t accept it for wine. I don’t want to expand here on specific items like ‘water memory’ (see http://www.i-sis.org.uk/DNA_sequence_reconstituted_from_Water_Memory.php and http://odewire.com/170441/scientists-investigate-water-memory.html) and the fact that some people seem to be definitely “blinded by science‘’, but let’s say that there are many ways to think about minerality in wine. However, it is true that ‘mineral saltiness’ in wine can also be caused or enhanced by work on the lees, the use of some ferments and even viticultural techniques, as I have been told. In fact, the mineral saltiness people do taste in wine is not always linked to the soil properties. Communicating on ‘minerality’ is therefore quite controversial.”

    I certainly have problems with people talking about minerality in very industrial wines. They should drop using it as a sign of terroir expression. It is mostly not, surely when people kill all the terroir effect by using loads of chemicals, using technical enhancing yeasts making even from a chardonnay a sauvignon blanc smell-alike… In some cases however, with minimal interference in the cellar, with the use of indigenous yeast strains (wild or pre-batched) and for surely in good organic/bio and biodynamic wines, I do believe that the minerality that you can taste can come from the terroir. This could be explained by the ‘memory of water’ much more than by the mass or weight of the dry mineral extracts found in the wine.

    I am really curious about YOUR reactions… but don’t forget, weight/mass is not always the point… a very tiny bit of polonium or even inorganic arsenic can tragically affect your health, even if you don’t taste it! To let you imagine the last one: “A one-time oral dose of 60,000 micrograms (µg) of inorganic arsenic is fatal for most people… although it is only 1/50 the weight of a penny…” (Source: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/hazardous/topics/arsenic.html)

  4. Gottfried Lamprecht (@Herrenhof_News) May 21, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    “It’s a known fact that the geological minerals cannot be taken up by the roots and convey these flavors and/or aromas to the wine.”

    who says that?
    it seems to be very unlogical to me..

  5. Stacy Woods May 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    In the nose (for me) it’s a saline aroma like a freshly opened box of kosher or sea salt. On the palate I get chalk dust or wet stones (yes I have put rocks in my mouth to test this and they do have a taste particularly at the beach)

  6. Magnus Ericsson May 21, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    I don’t think that most tasters literally mean that it tastes of minerals – it is more of a “it tastes like”-phenomena. That is something we say.

    Even if there are no mineral-content over the threshold of detection we associate it (the taste) with minerals (salts, chalk etc). And this probably has something to do with our own context and how we learn to associate smells and tastes with words. I think that some tasters therefore are more primed than others in using the word “mineral”.

    Why does some wines taste and smell more of “minerals” than others? I guess it has something to do with acidity levels (wines with more acid usually feels more “mineral” in style) and winemaking techniques (or winemaking at least the winemaking process). But is it all about acid, body and mouthfeel? I do not know. As Christian says here above – we do tend to think that mineral water tastes of minerals – but do they really taste of anything other than salts?

    It would be interesting to see if someone here got a link to research showing that vines that have grown in mineral-rich dirt really does tend to give wines that are more “mineral” in style! That would be a good starting point! :)

  7. Belinda Kemp May 21, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    http://www.princeofpinot.com/article/1350/

    This is a fabulous resource too. I like the idea that the aromas are taken up by the vine and expressed in wine. Many volatile aroma compounds survive fermentation so maybe it is not the actual mineral compounds but aromas trapped in soil taken up by roots and expressed in wine that is responsible. Be fun to test it with analysis of soil volatile aromas around the root system at specific times of the year and investigate the same compounds in the wine during and after fermentation. Only an idea and probably quite simplistic but many more ideas in the link.

  8. Antonio Morescalchi May 21, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    According to the work of famed consultants Claude and Lydia Bourguignon ( only in french, sorry https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Bourguignon) soil minerals do not go into volatile molecules, but are necessary to the plan in order to synthesize the enzymes responsible for flavor formation.

    • Christian Callec May 22, 2013 at 7:20 am #

      Hear, hear, hear… I wanted to refer to them in a later stadium… Great to see someone else doing it! 😉

  9. Fabien Lainé May 22, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Minerality in wine has been a subject from a long time on a lot of website, it is a kind of “myth” or hard understanding for many people. For what I could get from old times and some producers and that I can remember. Many producers today don’t know anymore, because of use of technology and not understanding of their soil, terroir, plants and what so ever…
    All I can say it is that all the micro-organism, all bacterias and others microscopic elements living in the soil, feed on many things, especially mineral “salts” components and nitrogen and other things contained in any living or even thing existing on planet Earth!
    Those bacterias, micro-organism or how ever you want to call then due to erosion, and nature facts feed and absorb minerals. Also, the vine plant while digging her roots through the soil to get food and water, absorb and feed on those micro-organism and nutrients, which by any mean I guess will get in the plant and branches, and leave traces or components in the fruits, leaves and all the parts of the plant it self.
    And I thing it is important to remember this sentence from a French man « Rien ne se perd, rien ne se crée, tout se transforme. »
    de Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, which translation is “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed. ”
    Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier.
    In a way I guess the plant absorb them, and transform “maybe” in other components. After, our human “senses” especially taste and smell, print out things in our brain, on how we feel them. For sure, I would not crunch pure chalk or slate every day for breakfast !
    So for sure it is, complex and in a way impossible to take off the curtain from this “minerality in wine”, and get full understanding of it! Often “Nature” rules are beyond human understanding !

    Have a great day ! Cheers #winelover

  10. Christian Callec May 22, 2013 at 7:25 am #

    Fully agree Fabien… Sometimes it’s good not wanting to understand everything that seems to work… I remember the words of a friend, a Franco-Chilean winemaker/consultant, talking about women… I think it works also replacing ‘women’ with ‘wine’… “Never try to understand women, just love them”.

  11. Luiz May 22, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Thanks Christian Callec, Gottfried Lamprecht, Stacy Woods, Magnus Ericsson, Belinda Kemp, and Antonio Morescalchi for taking the time. I’m in the middle of 200 different things today, but I’ll try to reply to all of your comments as soon as I can. This is going to be a very nice discussion… :) Cheers #winelovers!

  12. Luiz May 22, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    And thanks Fabien! the quote from Lavoisier may be one of the keys to open this mystery… :)

  13. Rıfat Diker May 22, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Talking about the minerals it immedeately leads you to elements .leaving out the organic matter such as cherry , oak and such as well as bugs insects and transformation. It is obvious that a thyme fed lamb tastes better than an industrially bred one. Could minerality then be coused by the elements existing in the ground that the grapevine sucks upon to feed itself that are deposited in the grapes that the wine making process brings out among many tastes . Another way to look at this detectable minerality is to get sophisticated in ionic transfer of elements that the grapevine root system is succeptive to. Thus leading to a far beyond soil analysis and results systematics then the methods used presently.

  14. marktnorman929 May 22, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Luiz I have read many of the same papers discussing the fact that organic matter cannot absorb the “minerals” themselves and I do not disagree with that but how often do we taste different flavors when we drink tap water from different locations which can be full of many different particles…if humans can discern minute particles why can’t the root system absorb the ground water and effect the growth of the vines…terrior is a fact of the production of wine grapes…all the immediate influences…even if we can’t yet provide the scientific proof that the soil that individual vines grow in affect the flavors we perceive the same grapes (varieties) grown in different locations can have noticeably different tastes.

  15. Paul Caputo May 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    I’m inclined to say that minerality (not terroir) is far easier to articulate in white wines. In reds the flavours associated with minerality are just as often described as brett. Is brett minerality? The trouble with the term is that it implies ‘minerality’ comes from minerals in the soil. Take red wines from volcanic soils for example – what is it people taste when they reference minerality here?

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