ValleyFogBlog


Of Wines and Minerality by Jennifer
July 27, 2013, 3:55 pm
Filed under: Tasting notes | Tags: , , , , ,

In today’s Wall Street Journal, wine writer Lettie Teague dissects the words “mineral” and “minerality” as they apply to wine. Her piece hints at a larger, industry-wide discussion about the terms, as there have been several other articles and panels in the past few months dealing with this topic. Chemist and wine educator Roy Williams writes in Daily Press that, “I have reviewed the information in the literature regarding the possible explanation for what many wine lovers refer to as minerality and I can find nothing that would offer any real scientific evidence that such a phenomenon exists.” A similar sentiment was expressed during a technical session at Pinot Paradise in May and at another conference way back in 2009 (which the New York Times even reported on).

So, even if there aren’t minerals, per se in wines, what does the mention of minerality by wine tasters really mean? In her piece, Teague interviews numerous wine shop owners, viticulture experts, and winemakers in order to get a sense of a common understanding of this terminology. One conclusion that she comes to is that minerality is often equated with acidity. She writes, “I can’t think of a minerally wine that doesn’t have lots of acidity too. That may be one of the key factors to minerality, even if the two aren’t fully synonymous…”

As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but think about one of our wines (the 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Oppenlander Vineyard) that our former winemaker Chris Nelson described as having “oceanic acidity” – a probable descriptor due to the vineyard’s proximity to the Pacific. In my mind I had conflated this descriptor with “oceanic minerality.” A quick web search reveals that “oceanic minerality” has been bandied about in reference to several wines. The phrase has also been used to describe the aroma of a single malt scotch, the taste of a shrimp dish, and the characteristics of a marine clay spa treatment (the oceanic minerality purportedly aids in cellulite reduction). The term that we’ve linked to one of our Pinot Noir releases, oceanic acidity, hasn’t really picked up momentum as a wine descriptor (although it appears in the tasting notes for a few other wines crafted by our former winemaker), but it does crop up in articles and websites that discuss the effects of climate change (which creates a more acidic ocean).

Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County, 2012

Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County (photo: B. Mast)

A big range of wines have been described as having oceanic minerality, including  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscadet, and Malbec. Whereas with the white wines, I would tend to think that oceanic could imply a briny, salty flavor, with the reds my mind plays back memories of sea breezes, acidity, and wet stone (perhaps sea creature-infused limestone, even though we may not technically be tasting minerals from the soil).

What do you think? Is minerality a term that you use when tasting and describing wine? How does it relate to acidity? And where does the term “oceanic” work into the equation for you?

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2 Comments so far
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Oceanic is a new term but I have picked up a salty salinity on grapes grown close to the ocean. The fog sitting on the grapes and drying out in the afternoon sun gives the resulting wines a slight salinity. Some vineyards like Durell Vineyard can be low in acidity but still have loads of minerals, but I agree the more acidity a wine has the more apparent the minerality.

Comment by Van Williamson

Minerality is a definite note for Pinot Noir, and more specifically Burgundy wines, for me. I just came back from tasting over 100 Pinot Noir at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, it is not as prevalent in our wine as it is the European offerings. Minerality definitely applies to whites, but again it is more a French thing; Branches in Ukiah used to serve a Sancerre from the Loire Valley – Sauvignon Blanc – that threw clear mineral notes in a way no Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc on the wine list did. Oceanic minerality might express itself where grapes grow in soil loaded with oceanic detritus, shells, fossils, etc., and that can be far inland, but oceanic acidity seems a term perhaps better reserved for Pacific Star where the influence is more obvious. Great piece. Thanks.

Comment by John Cesano




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