What is: Minerality?
From the back label of that cheap white you bought in the supermarket to the TV programs on fine wines, that word always seems to be coming back: minerality. But what exactly is a minerally wine?
Isn't it supposed to refer to stones & pebbles like the ones you find on the beach or at the park? I know what stones look like but I never tried to eat any... So what are all these people going on about? Well, if you are lost, let me help you to get your head around this mysterious concept of minerality.
What are They Talking About?
As you know it, wine is made of grapes, which are a fruit, so the most simple aromas a wine can display are "fruity" aromas. Whether it reminds you of gooseberries, green apple or unripe pineapple, there is none of this into it, just grapes, and we call these aromas the "primary aromas".
However, what usually makes wine lovers lose their mind over a lovely glass of vino are all the "non-fruity" aromas. And among them, one of the most famous one, often qualified as an "inorganic" aroma (yeah...right...they make it look so easy...) is minerality.
Basically, it reminds us of the smell of wet stones or crushed chalk, and even if we've never tried to eat any of those, for some reason we are sometimes tempted to associate them with a flavour found in some wines.
Where Does it Come From?
You'll find it quite disappointing but that still vastly remains a mystery... Everybody has got a different reason for it, that they are trying to convince the World with, but nothing rational has been discovered. I do have my little opinion on the subject, but don't take it for granted, that's only me... So for what it's worth, let me share it with you anyway.
I look at a grapevine a bit like a Tree of Life, not just that trunk that comes out of the ground, but also all the roots that we can't see, that run deeply underground. If the sun is shining and feeding the vine from above with all of its light, it tends to grow big juicy fruits with loads of "primary aromas". However, if the sun is shy and not too generous, the vine turns to its roots to help the fruit set and grow. These roots, through the various types of minerals & elements they have to digest, will eventually fill the berries with a certain "taste of the soil". And the older a vine, the deeper its roots, so that "taste of soil" and all of the secondary aromas are way stronger when it comes to "old vines" (watch out for those, it's often clearly written on the label).
When do You Get to Smell Minerality?
If you want to sample a minerally wine, some varietals of grapes, the likes of Riesling or Chardonnay, are known to express more aromas from the terroir (that's the place where they come from, if you need some help on that, click here). The main aspect of these aromas is a stone-like, flinty sort of minerally smell. But if you are still unsure about it, here are 3 simple ways to finally get it:
#1: Go Find a Waterfall
If you are lucky enough to live near a waterfall, or a small river, use your next "hangover" Sunday to go there and walk around it for a while. Because of all that water running on stones, the air gets charged with a "wet rock" sort of smell. That is exactly the type of smell people often refer to when calling a wine "fresh & minerally".
#2: Wait for the Next Lightening Storm
Don't put your life in danger now, but the next time the air gets heavy and the clouds quite dark, at that very moment when the lovely Summer day you dressed up for is about to turn into a miserable mix of rain and storm, just before you run home to take off flip-flops and short trousers and turn the kettle on (or get the wine opener), make sure you smell the air. When the air pressure rises, it lifts a lot of different odours from the ground, which altogether build up the scent of "minerality". Now go home before you catch a cold...
#3: Sharpen a Knife
Not much safer than a lightening storm, but definitely easier, is to sharpen the blade of a knife on a whetstone. As you do it, tiny particles of the stone heat up against the metal and generate a very "minerally" smell. And if it doesn't work that way, at least you'll have sharper knives for cooking...
That's it for this "What is" on minerality, I hope it helped you to get a better understanding of it. Thanks for your time & stay tuned for more tutorials!
Certified Sommelier (CMS)