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.’