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Minerality in Wine and Where to Find it

A look at how wine gets its prized stony, salty flavors

Pix Editors By June 14, 2021
photo collage of wine bottles on mineral rocks
Photo illustration Allison Kahler.

What does it mean when a wine note says a wine has “minerality” or a “mineral character?”

Sometimes described as  “salty,” “flinty,” “wet stones,” or “chalky,” minerality is essentially a flavor character. But where does it come from?  

A modern expression

As a wine descriptor, “minerality” is a relatively new term. According to Jancis Robinson, MW, minerality was never mentioned by Professor Émile Peynaud of Bordeaux, the renowned father of modern winemaking. And Professor Ann C. Noble, of the University of California at Davis, didn’t list it in her famous Aroma Wheel, created in 1984 to systematize the most common wine descriptors.

However, Robinson notes that in the 21st century, “minerality has come to be seen as a highly desirable quality in modern wine.” 

It makes sense. A trace of stoniness suggests the wine is revealing the terroir it came from. Perhaps “minerality” is an expression of the soil itself. 

Minerals and minerality

It turns out there is no clear relationship, however, between a stony taste and a stony soil. Most of the soil’s mineral content comes from organic material, not from geology. 

A 2015 study found that there is little-to-no relationship between the presence of actual minerals and a mineral taste in wine. However, researchers noted vines that sit in poor soil or have limited access to water will produce grapes with compounds that tasters identify as mineral. 

So there is an indirect relationship between soil and a mineral character in the wine.

Is minerality a good thing?

Wine media and marketing professionals view minerality as “a positive attribute in a wine,” according to Robinson

The bad news is, the descriptor may not be around for long regardless of whether its taste in wine signifies something good, bad, or indifferent. 

This is because fruit aromas can mask minerality. With climate change pushing vines to produce riper, richer grapes with more fruit aromas, those prized mineral characters may become less obvious over time.

3 wines with mineral flavors to try:

bottle of Viña Zorzal Navarra Garnacha 2019

Viña Zorzal Navarra Garnacha 2019 ($12)

Minerality can be harder to detect in red wines, because the character can be overwhelmed by both fruit and barrel flavors. One grape that shows it well, however, is Garnacha. This example comes from ancient, 100-year-old vines grown in terroir so harsh that it was abandoned, until the family of Antonio Sanz rescued them. The wine has plenty of red and black berry fruit flavors, layered over a smoky minerality. Serve with paella or barbecued chicken.

bottle of Santo Wines Santorini Assyrtiko 2019

Santo Wines Santorini Assyrtiko 2019 ($25)

Santo Wines is a tourist center in the village of Pyrgos on Santorini. With terraces overlooking the brilliant blue Mediterranean, it’s a magnet for bridal parties and influencers looking for that perfect picture. But the wines are serious, made from Assyrtiko grapes plucked from basket-shaped vines that are up to 80 years old. This one offers an aroma reminiscent of a salty breeze, while the palate is taut, bright with acidity, and full of mineral smokiness. The locals sip this with calamari.

bottle of Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru "Butteaux" Vieilles Vignes 2018

Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru "Butteaux" Vieilles Vignes 2018 ($55)

Of all the wines available to the modern wine drinker, none are so associated with minerality as Chablis. The grapes come from a 60-year-old plot in the heart of the Premier Cru vineyard, Butteaux (boo-toe), whose soils are Chablis’ classic limestone-rich Kimmeridgian. This particular plot is noted for being difficult to cultivate; perhaps it’s the way the vines are forced to struggle that produces the mineral-tasting compounds. Fermented with native yeasts and matured without oak, the result is a crisp, steely wine that will age beautifully. Pair with simple white fish or a goat cheese salad.