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How Is It Possible for a Wine to Taste Like Rocks?

Posted January 09, 2015

Stephen Fahy

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One of the most pretentious and indeed confusing terms in winespeak is the characterization of wines with “minerality”. Sensations like sweetness, fruitiness, dryness are universally understood, relatively speaking, as they’re readily found in most of the foods you eat, but aside from my 2 year old daughter, who else do you know that goes around licking wet stones every chance she gets?

Minerality is a real sensation, and fortunately the best term used to capture the capacity of a wine’s ability to showcase the soil that make a particular vineyard or sub-region unique. While it is much more salient on the palate than to the nose, it adds a textural sensation that binds wines from a specific sub-zone or area.

Take 5 minutes to stand amidst the vineyards in the slate-rich soils of Priorat, Spain, or the limestone/Kimmeridgian soils of Chablis and you will immediately get it: the vines (and therefore the wines) are products of their stony environment. Vine roots extend down 5 meters or more to get the nutrients they need, sucking up all the water and organic matter that flows over impermeable rock, adding immeasurable complexity to the juice that the vine ultimately produces.

Three wines with outstanding minerality, handpicked by us. Grab them now!

Here’s the reality: minerality cannot be scientifically measured like grams of sugar or pH levels. However we know it exists because wines from distinctly different vineyard locations share alarmingly similar characteristics, vintage after vintage that bind them to that location. As such, it is indisputable that minerality affects and sways the complexion, structure, and flavors of a wine, but it’s much more than just an accent (like salt). It creates lace-like structure that delivers pinpoint flavors reminiscent of gunflint, smoke, chalk and even crunchy fruit (think Pomegranate).

Minerality also adds textural traction on the palate, a grip, so to speak, so that wines from Penedes or Sancerre or even Pinot Noir from the Eola-Amity area of the Willammette Valley (again, think crunchy Pomegranate) show a ‘calling card’ dimensionality that is unique to that area of the world.

So the next time you see your daughter licking rocks, you can play along: put down the granite and pick up a glass of Riesling. It’ll be better for you in the long run!

If you're interested in trying some wine that really showcases minerality, click here to see three great bottles we picked out for you.

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Stephen C. Fahy, DWS is the Sales Director and a Wine Buyer at the Wine Library. Prior to this, Stephen managed the buying and sales initiatives for stores large and small in both New Jersey and Manhattan. In addition, Stephen sold to some of Manhattan’s top restaurants and retailers while a Wine and Spirits Consultant for Importer/Distributor, WINEBOW.

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