Minerality? It’s a metaphor mate

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Drinks: Imbibe Live, Wines
Location: England

The next time you want to describe a wine as ‘minerally’ think again. That’s the advice of Professor Alex Maltman.

Speaking at Imbibe Live this week, the eminent geologist was unequivocal.  ‘Minerality is a metaphor,’ he said. ‘It has to be. It’s not literally the taste of minerals.’

While the professor was happy to concede that vines need minerals to be able to survive, he pointed out that these are taken up in solution form and were quite distinct from big, visible chunks of minerals (stones and rock) in the vineyard which, from a biological point of view, were irrelevant.

‘Minerals in that sense [of plant nutrition]are not the same as the minerals that are making the stones,’ he said.  ‘It’s this failure to distinguish between the two that lies at the heart of the problem.’

He also pointed out that while a vine might take in tiny amounts of minerals through its roots, these were in such low levels that they would not be detectable to humans even before vinification, a process which has far bigger effects on a wine’s flavours than stones in the vineyard.

‘I’m not saying that minerals and geology are irrelevant to a wine’s character,’ he said. ‘But we are not literally tasting them. Whatever minerality is, it can’t be literally the taste of vineyard minerals.’

Laura Rhys MS, presenting three typically ‘minerally’ wines at the same talk agreed – and had a possible solution.

‘Rocks don’t smell or taste of anything,’ she said. ‘There’s no flavour we can attribute to them. For me, [minerality is]more about texture, acidity and mouthfeel …

‘If you look at a Mencia from Bierzo for instance, it’s lean, with fine-knit tannins and high acidity. It does almost feel as though you can taste the rocks because of the structure. It’s still very much a part of how we describe wines. I’ll keep using the term.’

About Author

Chris Losh

After five years working on My Weekly magazine (during which time he learned how to write horoscopes and make things out of mince) in 1995 Chris Losh entered the world of drinks writing and, despite all advice from his doctor – and the wishes of most South African winemakers – has stayed there ever since. He began on Wine and Spirit International, editing it for several years before moving on to edit Wine Magazine. Both publications have since gone the way of the Dodo, but he claims to have nothing to do with their demise, and his alibi appears solid, since he was freelance writing for anyone who would pay him at the time. In 2007, he helped to set up both Imbibe magazine and the Sommelier Wine Awards, and has spent much of the last three years eating, drinking, and listening to French sommeliers talk about minerality. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer Feature Writer of the Year, but didn’t win. Perhaps he should have stuck to horoscopes. And mince.

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