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Wines with Minerality and a Sense of Place

A well utilised word in wine-speak is `minerality`, an earth reference.  `Mineral` in wine can be apparent from youth to old age and refers to different elements in the ground. Chablis, which is cool-climate Chardonnay, is grown on Kimmeridgian limestone soil, made up with calcareous-rich decomposed sea shells. The crisp white wine is famously excellent with oysters because of its chalk, shell, pebble and flint characteristics. Left bank Bordeaux, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, is grown on gravel, often displaying an interesting lead pencil (graphite) character. In Northern Rhone, where Syrah is grown on rocky granite, the mineral flavour is described as granitic. Dry Riesling grown on the steep slopes of Germany`s Mosel river has a steely, mineral flavour defined as schist, or slate. And in red burgundy, the mineral element is mostly iron oxide.  Often soils are mixed and minerals diverse – the exact aroma difficult to pin-point – hence the generic term minerality used as a tasting note. My next word is less clear for this purpose: terroir. Because the term terroir doesn’t smell or taste of anything, exactly. What it means to describe is a wine`s sense of place, encompassing the influences of its location: the soil, climate (cool, warm, dry, wet), prevailing winds, altitude, etc. The winemaker will take all this in – the environment – and seek to harness the prevailing conditions to best effect, to produce the best possible wine. If he is successful, a good wine taster, with knowledge of the vineyard, will be able to taste the wine `blind` and pin-point it to the region, perhaps even the vineyard. The taster will somehow be transported there, guided by his or her sensory antennae: recognition of the grape or grapes, the style of wine, its relative ripeness, cool or warm climate, looking for tell-tale, defining features, homing in, drawing on  memory recall and experience. Sometimes, if necessary,  the taster will work through a process of elimination:  noting what it`s definitely NOT…  not Cabernet, not Shiraz, etc . Sometimes the tasting process works like a guided missile, other times it misfires. This could be down to the taster, of course.  He or she may well be professionally qualified, but  wine is  complex with thousands of grapes and differing terroirs around the world; impossible to know everything, no matter how good a taster you are.  It just may be the taster  doesn`t  know of this particular wine.  Or  he or she  may  simply not recognise it, on this occasion.   Besides it`s easy enough to go down a blind alleyway.  Early in the process you get transported to the wrong place, and its impossible to find your way after that. I`ve done it lots of times.  But also,  it`s just possible that the wine lacks a notable terroir, that the wine is  without a sense of place.  Actually, there`s an awful lot of wine around which lacks terroir, which gives all the more importance and value to those with it. Cheers all.

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