Minerality ‘only relevant to white wines’

Minerality is an “overused” concept when talking about wine and is best applied to white wines, not reds, a leading Soave oenologist has said.

Giovanni Ponchia

Giovanni Ponchia said that the term ‘minerality’ was generally misapplied to red wines 

Speaking to the drinks business at the International Volcanic Wines Forum in Veneto, Giovanni Ponchia, lead oenologist for the Consorzio di Tutela del Soave, suggested that confusion persisted about ‘minerality’ in wine and that the perception of it was frequently misguided.

He explained that the derivation of ‘minerality’ became clearest when making a comparative analysis of white wines matured in stainless steel.

“If I have to use this kind of word – which I hate – I will surely use [it] only for white wines without the influence of oak barrels,” Ponchia said.

“Minerality is a word for people that are not able to give a name to the flavour they are able to feel with their nose – so wet stone, gasoline, or flint or something similar.

“It’s an overused concept.”

While Ponchia acknowledged that there could be a perception of minerality in red wines owing to chemical reactions that occur during the maturation of certain reds in barrel, the term was most relevant to white wines, in which the effects of soil and terroir could be most readily perceived.

“Our sensation [of minerality] you can find in white wine mainly, because it’s not covered by the tannins, it’s not covered by the power of the alcohol or the polyphenolic content – it’s more highlighted in the white wines,” he said.

“There are barrels that are able to give, to add to the wine this kind of sensation that is difficult to describe. [But] I prefer to [talk about] minerality in white wines made up only in stainless steel.

“What you have in stainless steel from the beginning to the end of the winemaking process is something that is linked strictly to the soil, to the terroir, so there are no effects of the pyrogallic acid content in the oak barrels.

“It’s not an evolution of some aromatic precursor that is caused by the micro-oxygenation that is brought by ageing in barrels.”

Ponchia explained that in white wines matured in stainless steel, the ‘mineral’ sensation was normally linked to the terroir and soil.

“One nice example you can do is planting non-aromatic varieties in two completely different soils,” he said.

“White wines produced in sandy soils sometimes are able to express only green apple – so a very limited organoleptic profile.

“[By contrast] volcanic soils, but also sometimes calcareous rocks, are able to add [a] sensation completely outside of the fruit and completely outside of the flowers. We are talking about the tertiary family that sometimes is originated by the evolution of the norisoprenoid flavours family.

“The evolution of that kind of aromatic precursor – that [are] normally linked to the hottest vintages – are those that are normally able, after four, five, six years, to become mineral wines.”

Minerality and soil 

The concept of minerality in wine remains a vexed one. While the idea of soil-based minerality is sacrosanct to many Old World winemakers, some studies have been undertaken which reject the possibility of such a derivation.

Some suggest the perception of minerality in wine is more closely linked to acidity; others to the presence of certain sulphur compounds in the wine; still others to the effect of microbial activity.

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John Szabo MS has conducted research on wines from volcanic soils which suggests that ‘minerality’ is linked to potassium content in the soil 

Volcanic wine expert John Szabo MS speculates that the mineral salt content of volcanic wine was the defining factor. He related to db that he had found some revealing evidence from a winemaker whi makes wine on the Portuguese volcanic island of Azores as well as the Portuguese mainland. The winemaker, Szabo said, found that potassium levels in his Azores wines were three to four times higher than for those he made in mainland Portugal.

Ponchia says that what volcanic wines have in common is a dry, savoury taste which is closely associated with the places in which they were made; they are also generally white wines.

“Normally they are wines with a dry taste, and [they] are varieties that are very strictly linked to their places – think of Assyrtiko from Santorini, think of Garganega from Soave, think of Falanghina from the Phlegraen Fields, think of the white wines produced on the Etna,” he said.

“I think that probably what is the common line for these wines is a dry taste – a very particular, very unique organoleptic profile [which is] difficult to repeat and a very strong relationship between the soil and these varieties that are normally not used [elsewhere].

“Stainless steel helps you to develop this kind of sensation without influence of oxidation and bringing your nose to the non-aromatic, but dry, salty, savoury taste, with an evolution that starts after three or four years, in which the flowers and the fruits start to decrease and they leave space of something called’ minerality’.

In search of vulcanicity

Ponchia was speaking at the International Volcanic Wines Forum, hosted by the Consorzio di Tutela del Soave in Monteforte d’Alpone. Now in its eighth year, the forum was established to highlight the commonalities between wines from volcanic regions around the world.

The forum has helped Soave to redefine itself as a wine region amid the growing international interest in wines from grapes grown on volcanic soils. It followed a volcanic wines seminar held at the Institute of Masters of Wine last year, which was the basis of a db Top 10 volcanic wines feature.

The event was co-hosted by Ponchia and John Szabo MS, who has previously told db that while the term ‘minerality’ is decried by many people in the wine industry, he embraced the descriptor’s ambiguity.

“I’ve struggled with it but I used it regularly in my tasting notes,” he said.

“It’s a beautifully ambiguous term that encapsulates all of the things that don’t fall under fruit or floral or spice or wood-derived things. It’s that extra dimension that can be aromatic, it can be a taste sensation… for me it’s very much a taste sensation and a tactile sensation.”

 

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