These days, minerality is one of the most frequently used words when describing wine and the sensory impression of wine, But what does it mean, when we say that the wine has an expression of minerality? How can we sense it? And why do we find it so interesting that we want to write about it?
As I se it, minerality is an expression for the vine’s ability to absorb and express the soil and the terroir in which it grows. It is a condition for minerality in the wine that the soil is treated properly, which means that the farmer does not spray with chemicals and pesticides; nor drives through the fields with large machinery; nor uses fertilizers or disturb the natural cycle in any other ways.
I do not see minerality as a specific flavor, but rather an expression of the aromatic style of the wine. A style, which of course is different from one wine to the other, between the different producers and not least the different areas, as they are of course very unlike. For instance we talk about slate from “Bremmer Calmont”, the steepest vineyard in the world, limestone from “La Fosse” in Champagne and clay from “Fran Bussia in Barolo.
Wines grown in hard limestone often appear drier than other wines and allow more room to fruit acid. Wine grown in clay can have a high viscosity and florality, maybe even have a fruity taste to it. Wine grown in a terroir dominated by volcanic activity, e.g. the northern part of Alsace or Sicily, can often appear more salty or wild, or maybe even more independent in their expression. I could continue like this forever, talking about the different terroirs, but I will spare you. Besides the terroir, the age of the vines does also play a role. Generally speaking, old vines give a higher concentration in the grape, both when it comes to minerality and other flavors, than young vines. This of course is due to the old vines having grown longer in the soil, but also because it gives a lower yield of grapes.
When talking about minerality, I find oxidation very important. Therefore, a lot of the wines, we have at restaurant Relæ, comes from farmers, who are very confident in their style, and let the wine evolve autonomous. They dare to give their wine a personal touch! Earlier I have mentioned both Pacalet and Derain as great examples of this approach. They let their vines chose the style and use almost no sulfides.
When I mention sulfides, it is because excessive use, in my opinion, results in a wine, which is hampered in its development. Additionally, it is ‘closed’ when it comes to aromatic details, including minerality. Sulfides are a preservative that serves several purposes, when added to the wine. Primarily, is makes the wine last longer, it minimizes the risk of variation from one bottle to the other and last but not least, it prevents the wine from oxidizing and thereby evolve in a direction you can not control.
I believe the opposite of oxidation is reduction, meaning reservation or unapproachableness. It is a fact that a living wine oxidizes and that oxidation, in the right amount, give the wine a more immediate and honest character. At the same time, the oxidation gives the fruity and florale notes room to stand out. The same goes for minerality. When the wine is allowed to oxidize, I believe that the dry and salty mineral notes become more distinct, which I love – but why is it so interesting?
When combining wine with food, wine can make the experience more attentive – in a way it becomes more insisting. To me it seems as if both the food and the wine wish to tell me something. When the natural acid has subsided, the wine becomes both juicy and elegant, and somehow gets a more intense expression. My mouth gets dry, and I get the feeling that there is room for salty and herbal flavors, both in the food and the wine! It is like the minerality, by means of the oxidation, appears more clean and the wine itself gets a more clean expression. Often this expression becomes more well-defined and the details more well-established. It gives the wine attitude and pride, it awakens my respect for the wine and makes a match with food more equal.
I am very fond of these stringent wines, and when the acidity and the salty mineral notes are clearly defined in a wine, they consistently show which way they want to go, and just then, it becomes a tool in my search for the right match between the flavors of the food and those of the wine. When I succeed in finding the right match, it feels like lifting both feed and wine to a whole new level – much higher than what they reach separately. Therefore, a good wine pairing is not created by the sommelier alone. It is necessary to see it as a close collaboration between the chef and the sommelier.