3 Things Found In Plant Cells But Not Animal Cells Are There Rocks in My Wine?

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Are There Rocks in My Wine?

For wine lovers, the concept of “minerality” is confusing — especially since even experts don’t agree on exactly what it means. Now we all (or most of us anyway) can agree on whether a fragrance is floral or fruity. But what exactly is minerality?

Minerality does not appear as a classification on Ann Noble’s wheel of wine (for the uninformed, a wheel of aromas grouped into standard classifications – a sort of Neo-Wine Gnostic analogue to the dumb engineer’s circular slide rule). Of course Dr. Noble works for UC Davis in California, where we rarely need to mention minerality when describing local wines.

First of all, minerality isn’t even a real word, so it should give us a little pause for thought before we move on. Some winegrowers claim that the flavor expressed in the wine is caused by the type of soil and the terroir of the vineyard. Apparently the grapes gain a complement of minerals that reflect the mineral profile of the soil. Minerals in the soil are said to move from the roots and concentrate in the grapes. This unique mineral profile then gives the wine from that vineyard a unique aroma.

Sounds good in theory, but completely ignores the fact that mineral ions must first be absorbed into the roots by osmosis, it will limit the concentration of what is taken up. Then they need an active transport mechanism to pass through the cell membrane into the endoderm, which regulates what is taken up. Therefore, there will probably be no significant variation in the mineral content of grapes from healthy plants of the same variety, regardless of where it is grown.

A better definition of minerality is a lack of fruit. Apparently you are enjoying only the pure essence of the wine unaffected by those pesky aromatic esters. There might be something to that. In New World climates like California, which have few problems with fruit ripening, you rarely hear minerality mentioned, except in wine made from grapes grown in cooler areas. Minerality is most often mentioned when talking about European wines, especially wines from the more difficult grape growing climates. In cool European climates with short growing seasons, winemakers must harvest barely ripe fruit with low sugar levels. Even in the best of times, the fruit will reach nowhere near the level of ripeness found in California fruit. This results in lower alcohol levels and reduced aromatic complexity.

So, in a sense, it is true that terroir plays a role in minerality. The energy of the vineyard’s soil and the local microclimate will determine how ripe the grapes will be at harvest time, which is determined more by when they freeze than the brix level (a measure of sugar concentration).

Now, what are the sensory perceptions of minerality according to wine experts? Even among experts, things get a little fuzzy. Descriptions range from the smell of fresh rain to the smell of wet stones. Basically any property that is not of fruit, vegetable (or animal) origin. I’ll have to take their word for it. I personally don’t have much sensory memory for the taste of wet rocks – I gave up tasting rock at 2 or 3 years old. The best you can say is that if a wine tastes quite nice and doesn’t show a lot of flowers or fruit aromas, you can say it has a nice minerality.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it results in a style of wine that may be better for some food dishes – especially with more delicate foods like a simply baked trout which will be drowned out by a highly aromatic wine. In this case you can also say “mineral rocks”.

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