When it comes to wine-tasting is the way for certain words, such as minerality, a help or a deterrent?
There’s always a moment of self-consciousness the first time you use a fancy new description for wine in public. Until you’ve use it a few periods without being corrected, you can’t be quite sure you’ve got the intending right, and you can’t help feeling not just pretentious but fraudulent.
Such was the case for me with “minerality”. I can’t remember the wine that inspired me to use it for the first time. There would have been something in the glass, some flavour other than fruit or buds. I was facsimile other tasters I admired, guessing that what the hell is meant by this new word applied to the wine in question, and hoping deeper understanding would come through reiterated utilization of a word that, at the time, invited ridicule (” What do you entail it tastes of stones ?”).
When I first got involved in wine in the late 1990 s, I don’t remember ever hearing, let alone using, it. Now, if you cast your eyes down a wine list, you’re never more than a few words from “mineral”, a” great minerality” or some allusion to boulders, stones or salts. Does this intend there are abruptly loads more wines that savour of these elements than there were five, 10 or 20 years ago? I don’t think so.
Certainly, its proliferation in wine literature bothers many scientists. What they find really annoying is the implication that a wine can savor of the specific clay the grapes were grown on, and that the flavours are transmitted to the grapes through the vine. Study after study has debunked this idea. The soluble factors absorbed by vines from the soil- no matter what the clay type- are tasteless at the sort of concentrations found in wine.
More believable is the concept that combinations of certain soil, climate and grape assortment will affect the physiological the behavior of the flower, to move to wines with qualities that seem to fit the specific characteristics “mineral”. It’s not a matter of” savouring the soil “; more that the conditions work to attain wines with certain characteristics fit the admittedly vague “mineral” tag better than others.
It’s really no more complicated than comparing a better quality of certain wines to those found in certain strongly flavoured mineral waters. The precise quality of mineral is also possible refined to flinty, or salty, or steely, and it is generally found in high-acid white wine from cooler climates, such as chablis, champagne, Loire Valley sauvignons and chenins, Galician albarinos and German rieslings. I likewise savor it in whites made in the warmer climates and volcanic soils of Santorini in Greece and Avellino in Campania, in cooler-climate ruby-reds, such as Loire cabernet franc and Northern Rhone syrah, and in the garnacha-based cherry-reds grown on the famed llicorella slate clays in the heat of Priorat, southern Catalonia.
I feel much the same style about another lately prominent savouring word: umami. Research sponsored by the sherry industry a few years back may have shown that the wines of the region don’t actually contain umami. But there is something akin to the experience of eating umami-rich meat such as miso, soy or meaty stews and broths in oxidised wines such as vin jaune and, yes, sherry- as well as older chardonnays and the great gran reservas of Rioja- that fits the umami descriptor. Like minerality, it’s more metaphor than technological description. But then wine- surely wine talk- has always been as much about art as science, and, despite the risk of pretension, isn’t that part of its charm?
Six of the best mineral wines
Marks& Spencer Chablis, France 2014 ( PS12. 50, marksandspencer.com)
Something in the Chablis area’s mix of cool climate, calcareous soils and chardonnay grapes makes a style of dry white often celebrated by mineral notes, matched, in this classy version, with fresh apple and a swish of steel.
Morrisons The Best Priorat, Spain 2014 ( PS10, morrisons.com)
Is it the llicorella soils that give the sweetly rich, chewy maroons of Priorat their distinctive mineral undertow? That’s what many locals belief, and in this good-value instance it adds a refreshing boundary to the rosemary, liquorice and blackberry.
Loron et Fils Duc de Belmont Coteaux Bourguignons, France 2015 ( from PS8. 99, majestic.co.uk)
This fresh, crunchy cherry-red from the newish Burgundy appellation of Coteaux Bourguignons is a Beaujolais in all but name, its bright, summer-berry fruit lifted by refreshing mineral notes.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Albarino, Spain 2016 ( PS8. 50, sainsburys.co.uk)
In vineyards cooled by Atlantic spray in Galicia, the white-peachy juiciness and blossomy floral characteristics of albarinos such as this reliable staple are given seafood-matching perfection by their salty mineral acidity.
Champagne Tarlant Zero Brut Nature NV ( from PS36, dulwichvintners.co.uk; thesampler.co.uk)
All the best champagnes have a measure of minerals, but the impression is intensified in wines, such as this invigorating Tarlant, without added carbohydrate. Age it for a few years, and it’ll take on some umami savouriness, too.
Waitrose Solera Jerezana Fino del Puerto Lustau Sherry ( PS10. 29, waitrose.com)
There may not be any umami in sherry, but drinking it is certainly a savoury experience. In this case, salted nuts and Marmite on sourdough toast combination with a racy freshness for boozing with jamon and almonds.