The term “minerality” has become ubiquitous in recent years. Almost everyone who writes about wine finds the term useful as a descriptor for aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel sensations that remind one of rocks and dry earth.
The science, however, hasn’t caught up with the wine tasters. Oenologists are still puzzled by the phenomenon and they tend to be dismissive of the whole idea because, of course, it’s just something ditsy wine writers make up:
“We can really go through a rabbit hole here very quickly,” says Federico Casassa, associate professor of enology at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. “Linking minerality in wine is sexy and is a great sales pitch … However, to date, there is no clear scientific evidence connecting a specific terroir with the term. But we have some clues.”
It isn’t about being sexy. And it isn’t about a sales pitch. Wine writers are charged with trying to describe the elusive sensations enjoyed by wine lovers and they’ve stumbled upon a general category—minerality—about which there is a substantial consensus among tasters regarding its usefulness.
The word isn’t precise. Neither is the word “red.” But no one thinks we should abandon “red” because there are too many shades and color mixtures that count as “red.”
Since everything from “stony” to “salty” to “spring water” to “iron” counts as minerality, there is unlikely to be a single chemical compound that explains all instances of it. It’s a phenomenological construct probably not reducible to a single factor causal explanation. ( This article by Dennis Lapuyade is quite informative about the various sensations we call “minerality.”)
If it were not elusive we probably wouldn’t be so interested in it, but the fact it’s elusive doesn’t mean it isn’t real. The skeptics about minerality seem to be losing this debate.