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Filter My Wine with Stones, Baby!

Thank Goodness.  For a second, I thought someone was telling me that Santa Clause didn’t exist.

There’s a recent article in Wines & Vines magazine that asserted that minerality in wine is a myth—as least a myth in terms of being a characteristic that comes from a vineyard.

I read this and was kind of dumbfounded—the feeling you get when the kid you knew from high school ends up being an axe murderer.  Everything I thought I knew to be true, um, might not be true.

Maybe I’m being dramatic.  But, if I had to pick a favorite style of wine it would be, hands down without a shadow of a doubt, an Old Vine Zinfandel with a backbone of minerality.  If it’s medium-to-full bodied Zin that tastes like it was filtered through wet stones I’m a happy guy.  Rombauer makes a Zin like this and it’s one of my favorite bottles.  And, the other thing is I’m still waiting for that moment when friends, dinner and a bottle of Burgundy that tastes of fruit, pencil shavings and river rock collide in a cosmic moment of time and circumstance. The wine might not be as good in my mind’s eye if I didn’t fancy it coming from an idyllic chateau with a rough hewn vineyard topography and rocky soil.

I assume that wine that has an undercurrent of flinty goodness comes from vines that are in a rocky, terroir-oriented vineyard and perhaps I do so incorrectly.

So this Wines & Vines article comes out and says that, well the article doesn’t say much, but it does cite Jaime Goode, who maintains his own excellent wine blog.  And, it does have an open-ended walk off line to the article:

Without an agreed-upon standard, theories about where minerality comes from are bound to remain speculative. But the possibility that minerality stems not from the fixed characteristics of the vineyard but from compounds that can be controlled in the cellar should be cause for optimism. If emanations of slate can only be derived from slate soils, most of the winegrowing world is out of luck. But if this desirable property is due to the level of acidity or the presence of one or another sulfur compound that can be encouraged or discouraged, so much the better.

Thankfully, as the debate goes on, Grapecrafter comes to the rescue to make sure that the land doesn’t get short shrift in the debate.  And, he comes tantalizingly close to invoking BioD, but doesn’t.  He says:

Here’s what I’m pretty sure of. There is a characteristic minerally finish to wines which is strongly associated with living soil practices (earthworms, cover crops, abandoning pesticides or herbicides). It has been described as mineral energy, mineral electricity (as it resembles electric current in the throat), and also the flavor one has in the back of the throat after eating half shell oysters or when driving home from the beach. It’s similar to saltiness, but more complex and persistent. We don’t see this characteristic in wines from grapes grown using the methods of petroleum agriculture – bare soil, pesticide use, no earthworms present in the soil. These wines end in the mid-palate, and have a short, blank finish. They also don’t age well.

St. Vini has been following this for a while with excellent posts (and comments) here and here and Josh at Pinot Blogger has a post from a week or so, as well.

If you haven’t been following this online thread, I encourage you to do so, it’s a technical conversation that is accessible and makes for very interesting food for thought.

As for me, I choose to believe that Santa Clause exists and that minerality comes from the soil.  I might be wrong, but I feel a little bit safer in my naiveté.


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