Does wine have the minerals?

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I often puzzle over what seems to me the overuse of the term ‘mineral’, but one of leading German winemaker Clemens Busch’s wines is among the most ‘mineral’ wines I’ve ever encountered. This is the 2015 1er Grosses Gewächs Fahrlay Riesling. Indeed, when I first tasted it blind I wrote “Very intense salty mineral taste”. Then I looked at importer Tim Stock’s notes and saw the Fahrlay site,

“…produces fascinatingly salty minerality in the wines.”

Located in the Middle Mosel Valley, it is,

“an extremely stony, terraced, south-facing slope made up of very hard blue slate.”

It’s a magnificent wine, almost painful in its intensity, and I rated it very highly – 97 points.

But, salty? Do we really want salt in our riesling?!

My earliest experience with ‘salty’ wine was Australian wines produced from salt affected land in the Murray Valley near Swan Hill. At the time, this was seen as a fault, and I cannot remember enjoying the wines (this was in the 1990s). At the time, rising salt due to over-zealous irrigation in the Murray Valley was a big issue. Excessive irrigation over many years had brought salt up to the surface from deep underground. Much formerly arable land had been abandoned because the rising salt had killed everything the farmer attempted to grow, including grapevines.

Being an old salt myself, I have a long memory.

My esteemed colleague Bob Campbell MW has a marvellous way of describing minerality in wine. He has written about it on The Real Review, and as I recall, it goes like this. Taste a glass of distilled water and compare it to a glass of mineral water. The difference is minerality. A similar phenomenon can be perceived in some wines.

Scientists tell us that minerals in the soil, or dissolved in water in the soil, cannot be taken up by the roots of plants. Or at least, that’s the extent of current knowledge.

There is much more to this minerality caper than we understand today. I hope I’m still around when some bright spark breaks the code and works out why some wines taste ‘mineral’ and some don’t.

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