White wines from the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere tend to smell and taste vividly of fruits, but many classic European whites have an additional layer of aromatic complexity known as "minerality." In some wines, it can remind us of the smell of salt air by the sea, or of cleaning an old-fashioned chalkboard. More often, though, as with this bone-dry northern Italian Gavi, it's more like there's a faint scent of wet pebbles intermingled with the wine's natural taste of fresh-cut apples and pears. Though many of wine's more unusual flavors derive from compounds like esters and aldehydes generated during the turbulence of fermentation, minerality is a trait whose presence can be traced to the grapes themselves. In particular, a taste of stones is most noticeable in tart, lightweight, cold-climate white wines because this trait is strongest in wines made from grapes that are least ripe. Chefs and sommeliers favor mineral-scented white wines because of their food-flattering superpowers. They can seem lean, thin, or tart on first sip, but they can transform in the presence of salty food and shine a transformative spotlight on the flavors of a dish.
Banfi "Principessa Gavia" Gavi, Piedmont, Italy, $13.99 (sale price through Nov. 26, regularly $15.99) PLCB Item #7358. Also available at: Canal's Wine & Liquors in Pennsauken, $14.99; Total Wine & More in Cherry Hill, Wilmington, and Claymont, Del., $14.99.