Minerality: One of the most fascinating contemporary questions about wine is What is minerality? Despite its frequent use in describing all sorts of different wines, there is actually no agreed-upon definition of the word.
A number of the world’s great white wines are described as having a mineral flavor, usually meaning that the wine smells and tastes of crushed minerals, stones, wet stones, or even ocean water. For many wine professionals, however, minerality goes beyond these descriptions and is used to characterize a wine that is remarkable for its absence of fruit flavors. The greatest French Chablis or Austrian rieslings, for example, do not so much smell or taste of fruit (apples, pears, peaches, and so on) as they do of some primal element of the earth.
I shared my own theory about mineral wines, both white and red, with two sensory scientists from Cornell and Yale: Minerally wines activate the salt receptor taste buds—that is, they’re picked up on the palate just as salt is. As such, minerally wines make other (food) flavors livelier; like salt, they make them “jump.” So even though there’s never any actual salt in the wine, minerally wines enhance foods. The scientists heard me out (as we tasted through a flight of four red wines). Their conclusion? Said one of them: “I think you’re onto something.”
More wine lessons from Karen MacNeil here.