… the M-word, part 2

”No M-word is allowed today”

Je suis certainement très mal placé pour parler de la minéralité des vins car je n’utilise jamais ce descripteur pourtant très à la mode, tant je suis incapable de le définir clairement.
Thus the words of two enological experts – the first one may be apocryphal. At least, I have found no independent corroboration, and, in other contexts, Ms Robinson indeed uses the M-word. It is however glaringly absent in the 2006 Oxford Companion to Wine (I checked, recently).

I will, for the moment, side with Dubourdieu. I cannot define the ‘mineral’ clearly, and will not use it descriptively. This does not mean that I believe it is redundant, or a delusion (delusions being, in fact, where I have some professional capacity).

It appears to be fairly clear that the relation between the sensory ‘minerality’ and the actual minerals in the vineyard is very indirect.

Wine with a stable, or barnyard, character
Wine with a stable, or barnyard, character

Really, one should not have a problem with that. A traditional Bandol does not smell of stable because a horse was involved in its making. Nor do actual felines figure in the making of “cats piss Sauvignon Blanc” (I have been the happy owner of numerous cats and in no case did their litter boxes smell of Sancerre, so, something must be amiss there).

I did realize that the word has come to be used more and more frequently. To make sure that this was in fact the case, I looked into some of our older Guide Hachette, particularly looking for those wines that most often are described as being mineral.

Guide Hachette grades the wines it mentions using a 4 tier system – awarding between 0 and 3 stars to the wine. It must be realized that the mere mentioning of the wine should be considered a badge of merit, and you will read the guides through and through, you will never find anything disparaging said about the wines. The closest to a negative critique you will find is a recommendation of “some cellar age required”.
On top of the 4 tier gradation, there is also the “coup de Coeur”. The ‘heart’. Slightly oddly, the ‘heart’ may have 2 or three stars. I suppose the two best wines from a certain appellation will receive the ‘heart’, or something like it? If a ‘heart’ wine has 2 stars, there will not be a wine with 3 stars.
I started counting the number of wines where (sensory) minerality was mentioned, making no discernment between olfactorial and gustatory minerality. First, I looked into Petit Chablis and Chablis because, these are wines often described as ‘mineral’, plus, I happen to be very fond of Chablis. I started with the oldest Guide Hachette in our library, which happened to be 2004, then 2005, 2014, and 2016 (we apparently never bought the 2015, or we misplaced it). Having done that, I continued to the central vineyards of Loire and Pouilly-Fumée (PF), and Sancerre, also wines that I sincerely like. I considered finishing with Alsace Riesling but decided that I was bored, having, by then, considered 627 wines.
One thing I did look at was the mentioning of silex, or pierre-a-fusil, as a sensory descriptor, apart from minerality. I was struck by the paucity of its use: for Chablis/Petit Chablis, ten times, for PF/Sancerre, four times. Only twice was it mentioned after 2005, giving the impression that the use of the term is declining, at least in Guide Hachette.

Here are the data for the four appellations over the four editions of Guide Hachette:

2004 2005 2014 2016 Total/appellation
Chablis 33% 41% 58% 65% 183
Petit Chablis 27% 32% 54% 65% 95
Sancerre 28% 18% 25% 27% 156
PF 8% 12% 24% 33% 193
Total/annum 149 137 176 165

The full data set including how minerality relates to the HAchette grading system exist on a spreadsheet that I will share to those interested. It is very boring.

With the exception of Sancerre, the number of wines described as ‘mineral’ has obviously increased.
So, it would appear that, whatever it is, ‘minerality’ is more often described in these wines today than ten years ago.

The question remains, at least to me, What is this thing?

Ill be back



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