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Does Minerality Exist?

Feb 18, 2021

The wine world has a talent for finding code words to explain a broad, expansive subject. From "dark fruit" to "white pepper aromatics," descriptions quickly become vague and overwrought. Like fish to water, we can't help but love the word minerality (we even made a collection for it), though it's firmly in the category of overused lexicon. Our love is not hard to spot: last week, we brought in almost every available cuvee from GuiberteauBrendan Stater-West, and Sylvain Pataille. There's something ethereal and nuanced to minerality and, yes, white wine, and it's given most of us at the shop that ah-ha moment.
 
Alex Maltman, the author of Vineyards, Rocks, & Soils: The Wine Lover’s Guide to Geology, is one of the authorities on geology and its connection to wine. He argues that the wine world should be wary using "geological words to communicate our taste perceptions: slaty, mineral, flinty are used to connect the soil directly to the flavor profile...like most other tasting terms, in reality they have to be metaphors." 
 
We asked one of our favorite importers, Stephen Bitterolf, to explore the idea of minerality; his answer intertwined beautifully with Maltman's argument of this term as a metaphor: "I'm a bit less confident, in general, of human knowledge and probably a bit more willing to just enjoy the poetics of things. I mean, we can't really explain how love or ambition or sadness or envy works, but it's there, all around us all the time." As a shop, we're wholehearted believers in the poetics of things, wine, and life. Our faith isn't broken by the idea that minerality can't be proven. It being categorized as a simple metaphor doesn't shake our belief in, say, the Mosel as a mecca of beauty and salinity. 
 
The inability to pin down these broad flavor profiles is what makes us chase them even more. At the start of his career in wine, Stephen ‘'gravitated more toward leaner, white (sharp, high-acid, mineral-water-esque) wines." For him, discovering minerality was the first step in a journey to identify a certain wine love, which led to Chablis and Muscadet, and ultimately to committing an entire life to importing German Riesling. 
 
But again we ask: is minerality real? 
 
We are starting not to care so much. "All these theories are likely partly true, which means they are also partly untrue. And the truth remains that Chablis does smell like gunflint, often, and the smell of slate in a vineyard in the Mosel is very much like the smell you get from the wine," says Stephen.
 
We want to provide an opportunity for everyone to explore that hard-to-describe taste. There's a reason why almost every wine professional has fallen head over heels for mineral-inflected, flinty wines. They're beautiful and, to borrow Stephen's words, poetic. 
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  • Rebekah Pineda
  • wine