At the Vancouver International Wine Festival 2017, I sat in on some seminars that had wine makers across Canada speaking about their wines. As they spoke, we in the audience tried their wines. One thing that struck me is that many of the wine makers from Ontario would say how “mineral” their wines are; and I thought mineral? But then I thought “mineral”. There is no one definition of minerality. Being in BC, I am very familiar with what minerality means in our wines; to me it is a salty minerality, like mineral water. In Ontario, minerality does not mean the saltiness that I expect, rather it means “stoniness”. Recently Decanter posted wine descriptors on their website. I pulled off those descriptors that relate to minerality, which you will see below. And as you will see, there are many variations on minerality. Once you view the different descriptors, i will give you my final thoughts on how to describe minerality.
Minerality Wine Descriptors from Decanter
This term is derived from the French phrase ‘goût de pierre à fusil’, which literally means tasting of flint stone. Flint, flinty or even gunflint are terms used to describe the minerality note that is found in dry, austere white wines, notably Chablis and Sancerre.
If you want to experience what flint smells like, next time you are walking in the South Downs, pick up two pieces of chalk and rub them together. If this isn’t an option, think of wet pebbles.
The term chalky is usually applied to white wines with high acidity from cool climate terroirs with stony soils, and falls into the mineral category along with notes of flint and slate. Including Chardonnay wines from Chablis and Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre.
Our ability to perceive these mineral flavours in wine has caused some disagreement between scientists and wine experts, but it is nevertheless widely used at tastings. (If you are struggling, try to imagine licking a piece of chalky rock.)
Sarah Jane Evans MW relates the term chalky to mouthfeel when talking about wines with minerality, describing them as having ‘a taste as if of licking wet stones and often a chalky texture to match’.
This can relate to the astringency of tannins, as the mouth-drying effect can recall the powdery or grainy feeling of chalk. For example, a tannic red wine with a drying and lingering finish may be noted for its ‘chalky tannins’.
Graphite is a common descriptor, especially for fine red wines, signifying notes of pencil lead or a lead-like minerality. Some claim the aromas and flavours come from the wine’s contact with wood during oak maturation. However, others, especially producers in Bierzo and Priorat in Spain, believe that terroir contributes these characters – thus their slate soils provide a graphite taste to the wine. If you are unsure what graphite smells like, try sharpening an HB pencil.
Steely is a term commonly used to promote fashionable dry white wines, but what does it mean in the mouth? It describes a metallic flavour and a firm mouthfeel. Generally these wines are low in alcohol, high in acidity, with distinguished minerality. In this way it’s aligned with notes like flint and graphite.
Examples include cool climate wines, like Rieslings from Germany, Alsace, Austria or Eden Valley in Australia.
Read more about tasting descriptors at http://www.decanter.com/learn/advice/understand-tasting-notes-decoded-344920/#1JR26tQ1PprLteko.99
If you have ever drunk a bottle of Perrier or other mineral waters, you will know the taste of salty minerality. This is the type of minerality that I associate with BC wines, both red and white.
Have you ever licked a stone? Or smelled wet stones after a rain? That is my descriptor for stoniness in wine, and this is what many of the wine makers in Ontario talked about at the VIWF.
My Thoughts on Describing a Mineral Wine
As you can see there are several different types of minerality when talking about wine. What I would like to suggest when you describe minerality with others, is to not just say “mineral”, but to define the type of minerality, e.g. “salty minerality, stony minerality”. This way there can be no confusion between wine tasters. What are your experiences with mineral wines?