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Graham R

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Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Graham R » Sun Apr 01, 2012 8:42 am

Dear Wine Lovers,

Its been almost 11 years since I actively participated in this Forum. So its nice to be back!! In the meantime I have completed the Diploma at the WSET in London (Wine & Spirit Education Trust). I also started a wine shop near Stuttgart Germany as a kind of hobby wine shop, just open 3 days per week, we have stocked it up with our favourite wines from France and Italy - its great to spend time just talking to customers about wine - beats the heck out of my day job!!!

Anway I need all your help on a small project. I am currently writing the research paper for the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits. I chose the topic "Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?" because the word "Minerality" is becoming more and more frequently used in published wine assessments (that you and I rely on), but which is still struggling to find its place in the well understood wine descriptors basket.

Part of my research involves collecting the opinions of wine experts like you through an anonymous survey. If you would like to give me the benefit of your expertise (and hopefully contribute to a good mark!!!) just click the attached link below and complete the ten questions. No personal information of any kind is required or collected and the "Surveymonkey" web facility is completed secure. In fact its the industry leader. I look forward to your learned views! And thanks for your help! I will be completing the survey in about 6 weeks and will let you all know the key findings.
here is the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CGNT6K6

Greetings from Zurich Switzerland and I look forward to seeing your contributions!

best regards

Graham R
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Switzerland
Last edited by Graham R on Fri Apr 13, 2012 10:59 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Robin Garr

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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Robin Garr » Sun Apr 01, 2012 12:12 pm

Interesting survey, Graham (and welcome back!)

I'm a bit surprised that Grüner Veltliner and the Melon of Muscadet weren't included on the list of varieties ... these are varieties in which I'm rarely surprised to find mineral-related descriptors.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Craig Winchell » Sun Apr 01, 2012 12:39 pm

I have rarely tasted minerality in wine, and have never smelled it. However, just because Ann won't acknowledge it is no reason to assume it doesn't exist. I constantly argued with Ann about the term "vinous", which makes sense to me, but not to her, because I knew a wine for which it was a perfect descriptor, but for her, wine should taste like wine, so that the term was self-evident in the product- it didn't mean the same thing to her as it did to me. Typically, her descriptors are easily communicable to others, not terminology which means different things to different people. I hear "minerality" more and more, but typically fail to taste it. And I'm a pretty good taster, I think. To each his own.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by ChaimShraga » Sun Apr 01, 2012 1:10 pm

Google Chrome's dictionary doesn't recognize the word. And neither does Babylon. That's never stopped me, though.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Graham R » Sun Apr 01, 2012 1:14 pm

Robin.

You are right as usual. I guess in the questionnaire I had to stop the list of grape varieties at some point. I tried to include the "international varieties" but forgot these two which are definitely growing in popularity around the world. Unfortunately it is too late to add them - but point well taken!

best regards
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Victorwine » Sun Apr 01, 2012 1:30 pm

I don’t think that Ann Noble doesn’t think “minerality” in wine does not exist. It’s just that a “standard” for “minerality” cannot be produced, where a large majority of “tasters” would agree that (the “standard”) it is clearly “minerality”. Some claim they could taste and smell it, others (like myself) think it is more of a “tactical” perception. I’m sure most of us here are familiar with an article written back in 2007 by Harold McGee and Daniel Patterson- “Talk Dirt to ME”.
Best of luck to you Graham!

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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Graham R » Sun Apr 01, 2012 2:40 pm

Dear All,

You might be interested to know that research in two completely unrelated fields may converge one day to confirm what most people intuitively feel (i) research into how taste buds on the tongue function has found (so far) that we are equiped with the hardware to detect countless types of "bitter compounds" whereas the hardware for sweet, acidic, salty etc, is fairly limited. Many mineral salts illicit a bitter type reacton. It has been postulated that this mechanism worked as an evolutionary protector because countless poisonous substances are bitter. (ii) Secondly, Canadian researches have found that measuring all the mineral trace elements in wine tends to give each vineyard a "fingerprint" making wines chemically unique and traceable to their place of origin. Putting the two together, our brains may well have the software to interpret a complete ionic puzzle in a glass without actually being able to say why. This same issue came up when scientists realised that we find people "attractive" by an undetectable scent that triggers a reaction in our brains that the person has unrelated DNA - meaning offspring created with this person have a better chance to avoid genetically inherited deseases as well as to have a stronger immune system. The reaction in the brain is measurable, although people are unable to say why they felt or reacted they way they did.

The receptors on our tongues can be blocked as well, which may be why people find dry wines minerally but sweet wines not minerally even if both wines come from the same vineyard. There are people out there I guess who would use mineral with a TBA from Germany?

cheers

Graham
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Neil Courtney » Sun Apr 01, 2012 3:35 pm

I can not complete the questionnaire. My answer to the first question would have to be "Never", as I strenuously object to the term. But a "salty" wine is one of a number of terms that I use that would be "Mineral" to others. Every mineral in wine that is tasted or smelt has a name, and it is not quartz or any other non-soluble mineral. To be tasted or smelt as a "mineral" it must be volatile (smell) or water soluble (taste).
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Rahsaan » Sun Apr 01, 2012 3:38 pm

Graham R wrote:There are people out there I guess who would use mineral with a TBA from Germany?


Yes.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Ian Sutton » Sun Apr 01, 2012 6:31 pm

I certainly don't use the words mineral or vinous in describing wine. I suspect most non-wine geeks wouldn't have a clue what they meant and I don't think that many wine geeks really have a consistent feel for what it represents.

I'd much prefer people use taste descriptors that match what we might have as a reference point... and perhaps for my own education, what other words might be used as descriptors for mineral? I'm assuming these might include structural as well as flavour decriptors?

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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Victorwine » Sun Apr 01, 2012 7:36 pm

Ian wrote,
What other words might be used as descriptors for mineral?

Besides those mentioned by Graham (“sour” and “bitter”) and Neil (“salty”) one can use “sweet”, or “savory”. I guess minerals dissolved in water and depending upon their concentration can contribute to all the “basic human taste sensations”.

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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Tim York » Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:58 am

I certainly find mineral flavours in many wines (and in most of the wines I like) even though I do not believe that there is necessarily a direct correlation between such flavours and the soil content. What else are flavours which can be described as neither animal nor vegetable?

Ann Noble's wheel seems to me very unbalanced in favour of vegetable (which includes fruit) flavours, which is perhaps not surprising coming from California. Her earthy and chemical segments include some mineral flavours but few of the more noble (no pun intended :wink: ) ones? She gives even shorter shrift to animal flavours, which is probably due to Davis' obsession with their being faults.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Ian Sutton » Mon Apr 02, 2012 12:40 pm

Victor
Thanks for that. I guess the thing that puzzles me, is that if minerality can express sourness, sweetness, savouriness, etc. then shouldn't minerality have an accompanying descriptor, e.g. a minerally savouriness, mineral ferrousness or mineral saltiness? Ok maybe not the "swooping paving slabs" that announced the arrival of a UK wine journalist (who thankfully dropped that nonsense in her TNs and quickly became one of the more considered newspaper wine columnists here).

I wonder whether having been on geology field trips in my youth (never taking the subject further, unlike Neil) has put me in a similar camp to Neil. Rocks are not on the whole aromatic or flavoursome :) . Like Neil, I'd lean towards salty as a descriptor rather than minerally saltiness, unless there's something subtle I'm missing about minerality

regards

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p.s. I'm glad this discussion is here - I guess it's clear from the above that I've juts never 'got' minerality in wine tasting notes, so I'm eager to understand what people mean by it.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Tim York » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:14 pm

Neil Courtney wrote:I can not complete the questionnaire. My answer to the first question would have to be "Never", as I strenuously object to the term. But a "salty" wine is one of a number of terms that I use that would be "Mineral" to others. Every mineral in wine that is tasted or smelt has a name, and it is not quartz or any other non-soluble mineral. To be tasted or smelt as a "mineral" it must be volatile (smell) or water soluble (taste).


Neil, this seems a very dogmatic position. I hope for the sake of consistency you equally insist that people specify which fruit, which vegetable and which animal they are tasting. I confess to failure to reach this standard of precision. Occasionally I can pinpoint, say, a fruit or a mineral but more often than not I say "red fruit", "barnyard" or "mineral" without getting down to, say, "strawberry", "cow manure" or "flint". Sorry.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Ian Sutton » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:45 pm

Tim
I suspect Barnyard is the better comparison there, as fruits are perhaps more obvious to us. We taste them on a regular basis and will often be comfortable distinguishing between cherry, raspberry and strawberry for example.

I can see the logic of Parker's choice of 'wet stone'. That might be something we experience walking along a beach or alongside a stream in flow. But is it more than that?

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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Steve Slatcher » Mon Apr 02, 2012 4:30 pm

I think there are (at least) two issues here.

One is that minerality is a very general term. And I think I agree that the same criticism can be levelled against other general descriptors used in TNs. If you want to use general terms, fine. I certainly do in my personal notes. But I think we have to accept that they are far from perfect, and subject to misinterpretation. I have already had the discussion here, where it turned out that farmyards near where I live usually consist underfoot of mud mixed in with cow a sheep poo, while for others it was mainly chicken poo - very different smells (and probably none come very close to the truth in a wine). And we also had discussions about what was and was not a tropical fruit - I cannot remember the specific fruits, but there were some critical differences. For personal notes they are perhaps more useful, because they are a shorthand I understand. They are less useul for coummunication between tasters.

The other issue is that minerals generally do not smell or taste. I can think of about three that do, and none have anything vaguely in common - salt, sulphur, and petroleum oil (though I am not sure the last really counts as a mineral). If you wish to assert that other minerals smell, please give me some sort of proof - google is at your disposal. I know there are a few other examples, but they are not ones laymen (non-geologists) would normally come across. If I can smell wet stones by the sea it is more likely to be rotting seaweed, and by a stream the smells will likely have a biological origin (where I come from, probably the same origin as the farmyard). What do we gain by labelling all these as "minerality"?

On the few occasions when I have used minerality in my notes, I think I was trying to say something like "this wine is a little low on fruit, but there is a certain something about that I find quite attractive". Either that or it is more of a physical sensation for me - sometimes you get a chalkiness for example, which is textural - a type of astringency probably.

One final point/question. If minerality in wine is so real, why have people only recently started talking about it? Peynaud and Jackson do not mention it in their books on wine tasting, and Schuster only gives a brief mention in his glossary. Do writers really know so much more about wine now, or is it a mere fashion? Personally I think it has crept into our vocabularly alongside another trend - that is talk about expression of terroir, and terroir transparency. Don't get me wrong - I know not many people would claim the rocks in the vineyard give mineral tastes, but nevertheless you often read about fanciful ideas that imply that is the case. For example fruit-driven is contrasted with terroir-driven, implying that terroir-driven wines have something other than fruit, and that extra something is minerality. Is there any reason why terroir cannot lead to good fruit in a wine?

Sorry about the rambling end. I started off being quite structured, but it all went to pot eventually! As you can probably guess I am generally quite negative to ideas of minerality, but I am alway keen to try to learn what otrhers mean when they use the term, and I think I do already to a large extent.

(Graham - I think I made a mess of my questionnaire a few days ago. I think I answered "never" to the first question, answered a couple more questions, and finally tried to abort, but I think I saved it. If you find such a response - please ignore it. I found the questionnaire difficult to answer, because I do not know what minerality is. I can say whether I use the word or not - I have occasionally - but because I don't know what it is I am not sure I have ever really experienced it.)
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Victorwine » Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:50 pm

Steve wrote;
The other issue is that minerals generally do not smell or taste. I can think of about three that do, and none have anything vaguely in common - salt, sulfur, and petroleum oil (though I am not sure the last really counts as a mineral).

(Neil could correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he brought this up in his post). In a “pure crystalline” form or “pure mineral form” I would say that most minerals only have a “faint” odor or smell. Its when the “mineral” form is altered (or undergoes a change) does it possibly take on an “odor” or smell” (basically now it becomes a new chemical compound). Take the potassium metabisulfite powder I use in winemaking, in "pure" powdered form it doesn’t (or only has a faint odor) have much of an odor. Only when I dissolve it in wine (or warm water) does it take on a sulfurous compound odor.

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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Dale Williams » Mon Apr 02, 2012 9:42 pm

A few random thoughts:

If so few mineral elements have taste, it's amazing to me that Gerolsteiner, Badoit, San pellegrino, Vittel , etc have such different profiles. I'd actually be much more confident in my blind tasting ability to nail mineral waters than wine (I freely admit I'm a pedestrian taster). I should organize a blind water tasting.

For me minerality is a common family of flavors/impressions, and within the notes of some tasters as a descriptor (combined with review as whole) I trust it's a good indicator I'll like the wine. With others I don't know or trust, I don't know- means little. But overall for me "mineral" is at least as useful as "cherry".

I think of minerality as the big general category, with subsections for flinty, chalky, ferric, etc. I don't think I'm actually tasting flint, chalk, or iron, but then again I don't think I am actually tasting coffee, chocolate, cassis, or cherries either

As I answered in survey, I do think the impression of minerality is at least loosely linked to acidity, not sure I could name a warm climate low acidity wine I thought showed a lot of minerality.

I think I'll still use mineral as a descriptor (usually re flavor and particularly flavors on finish, not sure I have used as a aroma descriptor). I think there must be block or friend/foe capability in software, if it bothers you block me or other poster, if they use terminology you strenuously object to.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Mark Lipton » Tue Apr 03, 2012 3:13 am

Minerality is a general term, much like fruity is. Within its broad confines, there are smells that evoke specific minerals, many of which Dale names. I'd add to his list graphite or pencil lead, since that term arises quite frequently in tasting notes. Not only the smell of wet rocks should be evocative but also the smell of dry rocks on a hot summer's day. As far as the origins go, I'd agree that ascribing the source to minerals in the soil is hopelessly naive, but just as geosmin accounts for some "earthy" odors and TDN accounts for the "petrol" elements of Riesling, I expect that a few volatile organic molecules probably account for most of the mineral odors that we detect in wine. Just as geosmin (partially?) accounts for petrichor, that shouldn't invalidate the notion that wine can smell reminiscent of minerals.

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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Neil Courtney » Tue Apr 03, 2012 5:32 am

Tim York wrote:
Neil Courtney wrote:I can not complete the questionnaire. My answer to the first question would have to be "Never", as I strenuously object to the term. But a "salty" wine is one of a number of terms that I use that would be "Mineral" to others. Every mineral in wine that is tasted or smelt has a name, and it is not quartz or any other non-soluble mineral. To be tasted or smelt as a "mineral" it must be volatile (smell) or water soluble (taste).


Neil, this seems a very dogmatic position. I hope for the sake of consistency you equally insist that people specify which fruit, which vegetable and which animal they are tasting. I confess to failure to reach this standard of precision. Occasionally I can pinpoint, say, a fruit or a mineral but more often than not I say "red fruit", "barnyard" or "mineral" without getting down to, say, "strawberry", "cow manure" or "flint". Sorry.


Tim, I agree. I do use "fruity" when I can not figure out WHAT fruit it is, also "tropical fruit" when it is maybe pineapple or mango, but I don't know. I use "barnyard" without going as far as "cow pat" or "silage", and "flint" is generally a smell given off when a very hard rock such as quartz is hit hard with a rock hammer and sparks of hot rock fly off it.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Ben Rotter » Tue Apr 03, 2012 6:59 am

I find that most people use the term minerality to refer to a generalised aromatic association (e.g., smelling like river pebbles, wet chalk, struck flint, etc), as others have suggested it is often used. Used in that sense it is no more a fiction than describing a wine as smelling "fruity". Whether or not the mineral-related smells actually derive from the minerals themselves or from biological byproducts in mineral-specific environments (or something else), there is no doubt that tasters associate (at the very least) mineral environments with certain smells, and often there is a direct relationship (struck flint smells directly).

But there's another way I see minerality often being used, and that's in terms of palate sensation rather than any kind of aromatic sensation (i.e., it is not sensed by either direct olfaction or retronasal olfaction). People who use the term in this way seem to define it (palate-minerality) as a kind of impression of "energeticness", and it probably relates to acidity and textural impressions.

Part of the problem with discussions about minerality are perhaps that people mix the two (aromatic and palate minerality), which potentially confuses things (a bit like those terroir discussions in which the participants aren't actually defining the word terroir in the same way).

Personally, I suspect much of the aromatic experience of minerality is due to (near-)sub-threshold reduced sulphur compounds (e.g., disulphides and/or mercaptans). As for palate-minerality, I suspect it largely derives from some combination of acidity (i.e., pH/TA/species), weight (e.g., alcohol, glycerol) and texture (e.g., phenolics), and dissolved minerals (e.g., sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium) may well play a role.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Carl Eppig » Tue Apr 03, 2012 11:19 am

It is kinda like the Supreme Court take on porn; they know it when they see it. I know minerality when I taste it, and like others have said it is hard to get ones arms around it. I find it most commonly in Reisling from various places, and in certain Loire reds and whites.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Steve Slatcher » Tue Apr 03, 2012 11:27 am

Dale Williams wrote:If so few mineral elements have taste, it's amazing to me that Gerolsteiner, Badoit, San pellegrino, Vittel , etc have such different profiles. I'd actually be much more confident in my blind tasting ability to nail mineral waters than wine (I freely admit I'm a pedestrian taster). I should organize a blind water tasting.

The results of blind watger tastings have been puiblished , by Decanter. The point was not to try to identify the waters, but they were scored - and London tap water outperformed most bottled waters, coming in at numnber 2 or 3 IIRC.
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Re: Minerality in Wine: Fact, Fun or Fiction?

by Steve Slatcher » Tue Apr 03, 2012 11:31 am

Victorwine wrote:Steve wrote;
The other issue is that minerals generally do not smell or taste. I can think of about three that do, and none have anything vaguely in common - salt, sulfur, and petroleum oil (though I am not sure the last really counts as a mineral).

(Neil could correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he brought this up in his post). In a “pure crystalline” form or “pure mineral form” I would say that most minerals only have a “faint” odor or smell. Its when the “mineral” form is altered (or undergoes a change) does it possibly take on an “odor” or smell” (basically now it becomes a new chemical compound). Take the potassium metabisulfite powder I use in winemaking, in "pure" powdered form it doesn’t (or only has a faint odor) have much of an odor. Only when I dissolve it in wine (or warm water) does it take on a sulfurous compound odor.

I accept the point that some minerals need to be dissolved to be tasted, and that includes sodium chloride of course. But is that not what saliva is for?
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