What does "mineral" refer to in wine tasting notes?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What exactly does “mineral” mean in wine tasting notes? I see it for both red and white wines.

—Koorosh, Renton, Wash.

Dear Koorosh,

Minerality is one of the hardest wine tasting notes to explain, and it's tricky to communicate because it falls under the category of things that we recognize in wine but that we don’t typically put in our mouths (with the exception of salt, obviously). But I consider minerality both a smell and a flavor, and it’s mostly considered positive (unless you don’t like minerality).

To me, minerality is a savory side of wine that doesn’t fall into fruit, herb, spice or vegetal notes. Saline and sea salt flavors are some of my favorite examples. Chalk, crushed rocks, wet stones, slate, talc, limestone, gravel, flint, oyster shell, petrichor (the smell of rain on dry surfaces) or even the aroma of standing next to a hot brick wall are some specific examples of mineral elements in wine. Minerality can also evoke a wine’s mouthfeel—pebbles and slate are smooth while gravel or chalk are drying.

You’re right that it’s used to describe both red and white wines—I most often see it used for Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Syrah, but it’s pretty common in many other wines.

—Dr. Vinny

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