Jancis, like most wine writers today, finds the term useful in describing a range of flavors found in wines—wet stones, struck flint and “gaseous whiffs” for her. I use the term to refer to steely sensations and the smell of crushed rock as well.
It has been well established by science that what we’re tasting has little if anything to do with minerals in the soil. That’s fine. We’re trying to describe a sensation not discover the underlying cause of the sensation.
So it rankles me a bit when wine scientists criticize writers for using the term. Geologist Alex Maltman “went on to mock us for our use of the term gunflint, a common tasting term for Loire Sauvignon Blancs”, and “ is utterly bemused by the many bottlings nowadays that carry the name of a well-known soil type”. Dr. Richard Smart continued in the same vein, “Does the term add to the pleasure of wine?’ he asked rhetorically, before asking us all to stop using it.“
Well in fact Dr. Smart, yet it does. It helps us describe flavor notes that would otherwise be elusive without the term and its relatives. As long as we aren’t misleading readers by claiming we’re tasting soil minerals transferred to the wine, I don’t see the problem.
It’s the scientist’s job to find the causes of wine flavors; its the writer’s job to describe experiences and communicate them. Don’t scientists have enough to do without the mission creep?
We will happily leave the science to the scientists. They should leave the poetry to us.