Buzz: Hey, Marnie, I know mineral water, but what's mineral wine?
Marnie: I have no idea, Buzz – where did you see it?
Buzz: When we went to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse for our anniversary last week, I told my wife she could pick the wine. I regretted it right away because she wanted chardonnay. But going down the list, I found one wine was "fruity" and another "mineral," which seemed goofy. How can a wine be made from stones?
Marnie: Oh, I see. Fruity and mineral aren't terms for what a wine is made from. They're flavor descriptors – words that help convey how a particular wine will taste and smell.
Buzz: I seem to forget that when it comes to wine, it's like trying to talk in a foreign language.
Marnie: That's a good point Buzz. Typically, these descriptors are metaphorical: Think about our football Eagles. Their song says "Fly, Eagles, fly" but it's the ball that flies, not the player. Comparing a wine's flavor to more familiar flavors of other foods or drinks is normal, but sometimes words are used to reference other kinds of scents. You can hear a wine described as floral or woodsy or even mineral.
Buzz: Why can't you wine fanatics just stick to normal flavors like everyone else? What's wrong with orange or grape or some other fruit?
Marnie: We do that, too. Most wine descriptors compare wines to fruits like apples and pears for white wines, or berries and cherries for reds. However, wine has such an uncommonly broad range of flavors and scents, there just aren't enough fruit flavors to be precise. Some grapes have their own inherent flavors and scents that you can taste in their fruit off the vine – like the leafy herbal taste of sauvignon blanc or the flowery perfume of Moscato.
Buzz: There's a logic to that, but how we wind up with "minerals" and "wood" is what I don't get.
Marnie: It's all about the chemical reactions that take place during the winemaking process, Buzz. It can generate new aroma compounds that can add tastes to wine that weren't apparent in the fresh grapes. In the cool climate of white wines, there is often a faint smell of wet slate or stone that winemakers describe as "minerality."
Buzz: I guess that sounds better than saying your wine tastes like gravel.
Marnie: I know it sounds strange, but the flavor can be quite pleasant. Dry white wines like French Chablis or Italian Gavi are prized for their distinctive minerality. For me, they evoke the smell of a spring rain or a mountain stream.