At face value, minerality may seem like an immediate reference to terroir: that the type of soil emerges in the taste of minerals in wine – where molecules of minerals from the soil are absorbed by the vine, carried by the fruit, vinified, and delivered by the wine right onto the taste buds. It’s a common misconception – minerality is essentially the aromatic element aside from the fruit, herbal, and spice notes in a wine.
What is often perceived as minerality is simply the product of the reactions of volatile compounds in the grape. Minerality is also seen as a general flavor descriptor – a taste, smell, texture, or a combination of some or all. Compared to the forward notes of fruit, flora, and spice, minerality is a background note that enhances the main aromas to add complexity and interest to a wine’s bouquet.
There are actual manifestations of minerality, in that “mineral” tastes and smells are likely to be found in wines from a certain terroir. After all, soil composition can impact the compounds (like the amount of volatile sulfur and concentration of acids) and pH of the grape. Robust, low-yield vines in mineral-rich soil often found in cool mountainous areas have been found to produce nuanced and unique mineral wines.
There are varying degrees and kinds of minerality that exist. For instance, Chardonnay may present varying degrees of gunpowder (anywhere from lit fireworks to restrained struck flint), steel, and a saline finish. Drier Rieslings can express aromas of flint and slate. Sangiovese can be reminiscent of mortar, brick, or clay. Some Bordeaux present notes of gravel and lead. Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir evoke the memory of river stones.
Wines may exude similar notes, from the primary to peripheral, when there are common characteristics in the environs. In this context, minerality can be used to paint a picture of where the wine came from – an approximate image utilized to better understand its potential, even before the cork leaves the bottle.
Minerality can be imprecise, yet it exists as a practical expression of terroir. It may not be as prominent as fruit, herb, or spice, but is beloved, palpable, and present as part of the overall sensory experience of a good, often interesting, bottle of vino.