Musings on minerality in wine
I stumbled across Master of Wine Mary Gorman-McAdams’ blog on minerality in wine yesterday, and read it through with interest. She nails the topic, in all its complexity and irresolution, pointing out that we talk about this thing called “minerality” but that no one can properly define it, or even agree whether or not it has an aroma, taste or mouthfeel.
Potter Stewart on porn, anyone?
It’s true, as Gorman-McAdams points out, that certain Old World wines are more apparent in minerals than are California wines. Being grown more northerly in latitude, most European wines simply aren’t as fruity as California wines; that transparency allows the taster to discern background “minerality” if it’s there, whatever it is.
I don’t know what minerality is, any more than anyone else, but I do use the term a fair amount. I went back over my reviews from the past few months and chose out the following wines, for all of which I used the word “minerals” or “minerality.”
At first, I had thought my search would focus more on white wines than on reds, but no, there are plenty of reds I found minerality in. Then I thought Cabernet Sauvignon would be scarce in minerals, but it showed up, too. Here’s the list. All of these wines, by the way, received high scores; I think minerality is a good thing. Below each category of variety, I’ll talk about my conclusions.
Freestone 2009 Estate Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)
Carneros Highway 2010 Nueva Chardonnay (Carneros)
Conclusion: Chardonnay needs a cool climate to show minerality. There seems to be a connection between minerality and acidity. There also seems to be a connection with lower alcohol.
Viogniers, Albarinos & various white blends
Kennefick Ranch 2010 Estate Pickett Road White (Calistoga); Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne
Calera 2010 Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Vintage Viognier (Central Coast)
Trenza 2009 Blanco (Edna Valley); Albarino and Grenache Blanc
Tangent 2010 Paragon Vineyard Albarino (Edna Valley)
Conclusion: As with Chardonnay, these whites show minerality when they were grown in the coolest coastal regions. Edna Valley whites always show this firmness; you can almost taste the wind, stones and fog. Calistoga, where the Kennefick Ranch white blend is from, obviously isn’t a cool coastal region, but 2010 was chilly, even there.
Kendric 2008 Pinot Noir (Marin County)
Dierberg 2008 Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
Calera 2008 Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mt. Harlan)
Calera 2008 MIlls Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mt. Harlan)
Conclusion: The Kendric and Dierbeg Pinots come from cool coastal climates. Mount Harlan isn’t particularly cool, but keep in mind that Josh Jensen chose this location because of the deposits of limestone that vein the soil.
Mayacamas 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (Mount Veeder)
Hall 2010 T Bar T Ranch Sauvignon Blanc (Alexander Valley)
Pont de Chevalier 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (Knights Valley)
Conclusion: Minerality in California Sauvignon Blanc is very difficult to achieve because you need coolness, but that same cool climate can make Sauvignon Blanc green and cat pee-y. What these three have in common is mountain fruit. (T Bar T is high in the Mayacamas, not on the Alexander Valley floor.)
Volker Eisele 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)
Storybook Mountain 2010 SEPS Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)
Thomas Fogarty 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains)
Atlas Peak 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain)
Conclusion: The key to minerals in Cabernet is the proper soil. It can be mountains or benches. If the minerality is there, it’s subtle, in a wine as rich and full-bodied as Cabernet, so the wine has to be fully dry in order to detect it. But properly grown, with limited yield, a great Cabernet will offer a taste of the dirt in which it it was grown. It’s harder to describe what “minerality” tastes or feels like in Cabernet than in lighter wines. For me, it’s as if specks of lead pencil or ground-up steel shavings were in the mix.
I’m interested to hear my readers’ takes on minerality in wine.