Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why I am confused by wine-searcher.com's article "The Reality of Minerality"

Today I read a confusing (for me) and somewhat disingenuously titled article on wine-searcher.com called "The Reality of Minerality." Having written extensively on the topic on this blog, I was intensely interested and clicked through thinking that I had missed some grand development that had cleared up this abiding mystery once and for all. It was not what it appeared to be. As a matter of fact, I have some issues with the article and the report on which it is based; at least the elements of the report that are shared in this article.

The article was reporting on a study whose objective was to use trained sensory judges in New Zealand and France to investigate cultural differences in the perception of minerality," with the cultural differences arising around Sauvignon Blanc production processes and style. According to the wine-searcher article, the "results suggest that the concept is very real." Note that we have gone from the definitive "reality of minerality" in the title to the "concept" here. Further, a "concept" is defined as a "general idea or understanding" while "real" is defined as "being or occurring as fact" or "having verifiable existence." Is the author suggesting here that the idea of minerality is a verifiable fact? Because that is inaccurate. The traditional idea of minerality in wine revolves around the idea that minerals from the ground are somehow absorbed into the vine, transported into the fruit, and survives the rigors of fermentation to present "itself" unscathed to the taster's palate. And, being from the Maltman school, I do not buy that.

The lead author on the underlying study is quoted in the article as saying "Lack of perceived flavor was associated with the perception of minerality ... If there was nothing much else in the wine, people resort to calling it mineral by a process of elimination." This is not an argument for minerality; this is an argument against lack of flavor in wines and posits a fallback position for tasters: "If I cannot check any other box, let me check mineral." As a matter of fact, this is the headline here: "The perception of minerality results from an absence of detectable/describable flavors in wine." I can see the big-time tasters buying-in to that concept.

And maybe the issue here is the word minerality. We know that minerals cannot be smelled or tasted so why do we persist in acting as though we can taste and smell minerals in our wine. I am willing to concede that there is some sensation that I experience when I drink some white wines that is not adequately described by the available population of descriptors. But minerality is too loaded. Perminality anyone.

The article closes with the lead author stating "We are still not sure what minerality is." You probably should not be saying that in an article titled "The Reality of Minerality."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


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