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A wine drawing philosopher with a heart of gold. aka. #firekitten

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  1. fish*wine*ski
    fish*wine*ski at | | Reply

    Great piece. It is funny how nudgy mineral as a descriptor can be. I have read things that dismiss the use of mineral in describing your wine experience because mineral is not volatile and therefore cannot give off a scent. I like how you distinguished between mineral actually being present in the grape and the sense of mineral in the wine and how they are two totally different things.

  2. John Atkinson MW
    John Atkinson MW at | | Reply

    Very interested in your discussion of minerality; the term dripped incessantly into my tasting notes throughout the MW programme, and then they gave me the tasting prize; just shocking how far misappropriation can get you!

    It has taken ten years working in Champagne for me to get a grasp of what our Chef de Cave means by “minerality”, or at least to get his agreement when I toss the term back to him.

    First off, the term is applied both to vin clair and the finished wines after disgorgement, so one needs to be cautious about attributing it to reductive flavours arising out of the prise de mousse alone. The reference is to those bitter salt characters that hinge together the flavours at the front and back of the palate. Tasting through 20 or so vin clair before assemblage, it is interesting to note than the intensity of this character more or less coincides with the echelle system, that is, it’s greater in Pinot from Verzenay and Ay, that it is in Pinot from Tauxieres. Given that the echelle system is pretty much built upon the quantity and quality of the chalk in the subsoil, there appears to be something of a significant correlation between flavour and chalk that’s begging for a hypothesis.

    I am with you on the link between soil structure, calcium, root generation, and capillary rise as a means of explaining the different journeys to ripeness taken by vines in adjacent appellations. I think these insights into soil structure give a pretty comprehensive account of how terroir works on the Cote de Nuits, but I would be being disingenuous if I said it was the whole story, because when I taste wines from Burgundy (and the Haut Medoc, and the Loire) I am acutely aware of this additional, abrasive mineral component that doesn’t seem obviously attributable to differences in berry size or skin thickness.

    Tasting Champagne, good Champagne, I am struck by how the wines can be simultaneously refreshing – acidulous, citrus, sparkling – and, as a consequence of this bitter salt component, desiccating. Moreover, the fact that these qualities are in some sense linked, that there is a degree of positive reinforcement between the acid and the alkali in this instance, just seems to add to the finished wines’ intensities.

    The Loire is another region where this mineral gyre is pronounced. I once tasted a range of Mont Damnes Sancerre with some French sommeliers, exiled in London. The wines had them pining for home; reaching for the ruby slippers; sure they were mineral, but I was alone in finding the wines lacking in pleasure. For me this mineral character was just too isolated and dominant. Like salt on food, the mineral component not only adds its own flavour, it also enhances and draws together other flavours that are present within the wine, like a lens.

    Having been away from the US for a long time, I am not sure how these insights stack-up with your own experiences. In the past I worked with Paul Draper, and tasting Ridge Monte Bello today, I always encounter the very same mineral element that I find in the best wines of the Haut Medoc. This characteristic doesn’t register as graphite, but it’s more like a feint saline undertow that acts as a fulcrum between the wine’s structure and flavours. Is it limestone? Similarly, a few days ago, I tasted David Ramey’s Chardonnay against Caroline Morey’s Meursault, and the main difference was the abrasive, sherbet element that was so plentiful in the Morey wine, but entirely missing in the Sonoma bottle.

    All this intrigues me because for many years I tried to introduce French winemakers to New World wines, with little success. Now, having been thoroughly inculcated into the French wine empire, I have also come to share their prejudices. A wine without this elusive bitter-salt mineral component just seems incomplete. Intensity and concentration are profoundly different terms when applied to wines.

    The above, then, is my situ understanding of minerality. It is as definitive as I can make it, but I can’t, as yet, explain it. Yes, it seems tied to limestone in some way (and France is superficially 80% limestone) but what happens beyond this obvious association I cannot say.

    Keep salting the caramel

  3. John Atkinson
    John Atkinson at | | Reply

    Valerie Saxton’s paper on Calcium in Viticulture is pretty good if you want a referenced account of the relationship between roots and soil hydrology and calcium.

    I have some detailed data from Burgundy, Champagne and the UK, which does contradict the idea of high cation availabilty in high pH soils as the clay-humus complexes are just so base-saturated with calcium, there’s no space for anything else. As ever with soils, it’s the distiction between capacity,availabilty and extractability that’s at issue.

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