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Minerality?

DSC09702All tasted in Chablis, 20 March 2016, with Grégory Viennois, David Croix and Stéphane Derenoncourt.

Or as my hosts described this tasting:
Limestone and Minerality – the language of the soil.

Honestly, I don’t think I learned very much about minerality in this presentation, hosted by Domaine Laroche in Chablis, but I did find many wines that seemed ‘mineral’ to me, that I enjoyed very much!

I do think I widened my concept of the various (potential!) degrees of what minerality might be, but I also tend to think that many, many consumers use the word (if they use the word) minerality in a different context to wine writers(?) Given the disparity of ‘descriptors’ it’s clear than many ‘professionals’ do not agree on what constitutes minerality – so god help the consumers!

Our hosts started provocatively:

Is minerality just the phrase of the moment? Other phrases of the moment have been concentrated, but now all wines are concentrated, then it was tension – the important buzzwords seem to change every few years… But it’s a relatively young concept that the idea of minerality is a positive one.

Minerality is a tricky one to explain, but it refers to a group of non-fruit, non-herb, non-spice notes. Mineral notes can describe aroma or taste or both. Think of the taste of the sea that you get from crunchy sea salt or oysters. The smell of a sidewalk after it rains.
Thank-you Google

So, is minerality something aromatic, textural or something in the flavour, like metallic or saline? How many people consider that acidity equals minerality? And if we really want to play devil’s advocate – how much difference does even the shape and size of the glass make?

Google should be able to help, or…(?)

Minerality in wine – 493,000 results
Minerality in white wine – 343,000 results
Minerality in red wine – 269,000 results

So what about some examples? Absence of fruit? Reduction? A combination of aroma and sensation in the mouth? Bitterness? Salinity? Acidity? – Or what about a wine without make-up?

For me personally, it’s very often about an impression of stone and/or metal – it can be both aromatic or it can be a flavour – it also co-exists with fruit in red or white wines, but doesn’t have to, it can also be the dominant (only!) character – in this case, probably the great Chablis will show it to the highest degree.

The wines…

Of-course these are all wines made either by Laroche, David Croix or Stéphane Derenoncourt:

Flight 1
2014 Laroche, Chablis 1er Vau de Vey
Very pretty nose, discreetly reduced but with a really fine and clean citrus fruit core. Fresh, bright, intense – just a gorgeous wine. Bravo…. Minerality – clearly, but really only in the finish, where it’s steely and mouth-watering
2014 Laroche, Chablis 1er Fourchaume
Also a hint of reduction, but here a really deep nose – faintly agrumed. A hint more softness, but a really wonderful growth of mouth-watering flavour – a hint mineral aspect in the flavour as well as the finish – again pronounced in the finish.
2014 Camille Giroud, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Tête du Clos
A deep, richer fruit on the nose, some greener fruit aspects too. Lithe, broad, very fine definition considering it’s following two Chablis. A wine of line and a mid-palate minerality – no obvious oak artifacts here. Bravo!

Flight 2:
2014 Laroche, Chablis 1er Montmains
A little tighter nose, faintly citrus backed – almost soft. Round, lovely mouth-filling energy. Complex, mouth-watering flavour. Whilst there is a suggestion of minerality in the mid-palate, really it shows itself better in the finish – still, less obviously so than the first two Chablis…
2014 Laroche, Chablis 1er Vaillons Vieilles Vignes
A more green hue. A soft sweetness again, modestly complex. Fine, lovely line, more obviously mineral perhaps with the help of a reductive element a lovely, lovely example of minerality. Tighter than would be perfect to start – but detailed wine.
2014 Camille Giroud, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Les Vergers
Compared to the Chablis, this has a layer of almost smoky vanilla oak. Gorgeous texture, clearly mineral in character, almost metallic and with a super length.

Flight 3:
2014 Laroche, Chablis Les Clos
Tight, faintly reduced, agrume fruit. Large-scaled, beautifully mouth-watering from a density at the core – gorgeously complex too. Growing width in the finish before slowly fading. Here is more of an impression of weight, of minerality, than full flavour. Really great wine.
2014 Laroche, Chablis Les Blanchots
A more open, slightly floral, faintly reduced nose. Richer, rounder, with layered delivery, for me a more obvious ‘calcaire’ type of wine. More overtly mineral – but large-scaled and not hidden. Lovely, long finishing with a suggestion of reduction. The Clos is a little easier and exciting today, the Blanchots lovely, lovely, with rich minerality.
2014 des Croix, Corton-Charlemagne
A nose of line, of direction – a hint of distracting oak, but really not so much. A beautiful white flower floral note at the core. Richer, but flowing acidity and energy from this wine. Long and calcaire minerality. Here is a different style of minerality – how many dimensions are there – saline? Reductive? Metallic? Calacaire?

Flight 4, the reds:
2012 Château Larcis Ducasse
Deep, dark and rich berry fruit. Just a faint salinity to the nose? Large-scaled, texture from tannin, mouth-watering. A quite strong minerality or rather a metallic impression, almost reductive flavour that dovetails into toasty, slightly bitter oak flavours. Long on the bitter note. Actually very long – but still bitter!
2012 Château Godeau
A more friendly fruited and flowered nose. A little friendlier, with wide flavour, less deep, but less overtly bitter – though it’s still there in the finish. Neither of these first two enjoyable for me.
2012 Camille Giroud, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Lavaux St.Jacques
A little powdery top notes – below is a bright and sweet red fruit – the powder quickly gives way to florality. This nose starts ‘okay’ but becomes super. Beautiful texture that slowly brings forward a little tannic texture – though hardly grained. A floral aspect to the mid-palate too. I’m minded to describe this finishing flavour as a calcaire-influenced fruit, but maybe it’s auto-suggestion given our subject. Its perfume smells a little like whole cluster – but none was used in 12…

It’s an open question – is there minerality in red wines? – I believe yes, I think I often use the word in that context, but the mid-palate clarity of white wines is definitely clouded or confused with reds because of their extra dimension of tannin. Certainly it is very easy to find many, many wines with a saline impression, or reds from white soil that have a powdery, ‘limestone’ impression to the nose.

2012 Clos Fourtet
A softer, nicely packaged nose of inviting complexity and some pretty flashes of dark and pure fruit. A sweetness and width – layers of intense fruit, some herb. Slowly increasing is a base of tannin, it’s a part of the texture but it’s far from the most important. The bitterness of the other St.Emillions is largely covered such that the bitterness remains modest here.
2012 Pavie-Macquin
Much more open and brighter fruit – more obviously with a herb complexity. Supple, more obvious tannin, more energy and dimension, also a higher bitter oak element. Still better than the first two wines, but far from gourmand! Very long though, on a sort of reductive note that I find very mineral in a white wine character.
2012 des Croix, Corton Grèves
Clearly more modest in colour! A surprisingly leathery nose to start – slowly a more floral nose. Round, certainly mouth-filling. The flavour is bright and with good intensity – a base of tannin texture but almost no grain. Lingers with a fine fruit note that again, like the Lavaux shows a certain rose-inflected fruit, though completely destemmed…

Some say that texture is important to minerality. Given the (massive) textural difference between a well aged 2003 and a 2014 white, I’m unconvinced – both can show fabulous minerality – just like a 2006 Chablis can – but their texture is very different. Of-course in these examples, freshness plays no part in the aspect of minerality – 2003 and 2006 rarely offering the ‘freshness’ of other vintages.

One response to “Minerality?”

  1. CasparB

    For me it’s clear that whatever terroir is (and I guess this is tied to minerality) it is communicated within the acidity of a wine. Wines with lower levels of acidity communicate less well their sense of place…

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