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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Why is “mineral” so often used to describe wine? It’s such a broad term as to be meaningless. Different minerals have different smells and tastes, so why aren’t those names used?
—Kerry B., Happy Valley, Ore.
I’ll defend the use of the broad term “mineral,” as I think it’s just as useful as other broad wine descriptors like “herb” or “citrus.” Sometimes a wine is so detailed in its expression that it screams “fresh thyme and ripe tangerine” or “dried mint and ruby grapefruit.” Other times it’s simply “herb and citrus.” Same thing with mineral notes—sometimes it reminds me of standing next to a brick wall on a hot day, the smell of the sidewalk after it rains, or the distinctive note I get when I crunch into sea salt. Other times it’s just a distinct non-fruit, non-herb, non-spice note.
But I understand what you’re saying. Mineral is trickier to communicate because—even if you notice it in a wine—it typically falls under the category of “things we recognize in wine but we don’t usually put into our mouths.” So recognizing mineral in a wine is one thing, but having the vocabulary to describe it is something else entirely. Wine writers need to walk a fine line of being descriptive while not being too esoteric. One person’s “mineral” note in a wine might be another’s iron, loam, chalk, slate, granite, limestone, or flint—terms which might confuse even more wine lovers.
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