A guide to getting stoned on wine
Uncorked by Thor Iverson
Of all the outlandish outlandish things we wine writers put in our
tasting notes, one of
the hardest to understand is rock. No, not that kind of rock; we're
talking iron, slate, soil, and stone. Understanding minerality -- the
all-encompassing term for these sorts of flavors -- can open up a whole new
world of taste beyond simple fruit and vegetable flavors. It's the key to
understanding entire categories of wine.
for a rundown of wine tastings, dinners, and events.
So what is minerality, and what does it taste like in wine? Let's first
dispense with one of the big myths: minerality is not the same thing as
the character of a particular place's earth, water, and air
that makes its wine unique. Many wine tasters declare that a wine "tastes of
terroir" when what they really mean is that the wine tastes earthy or
minerally. Some biologists will tell you that there's absolutely no way the
soil itself can find its way into the juice of a grape, but there's still an
unmistakable relationship between the two -- so although chalk in the soil
might not account for a chalky taste in your wine, the idea does hold a certain
romance for wine lovers, which explains the confusion.
A while back,
I said that the best way to identify the flavors of wine was to
build a memory bank of the taste of everything that enters your mouth. That's
fine for fruits and vegetables and meats, but most of us stopped putting soil
samples in our mouths at a very early age. Now is when those childhood
experiments will pay off. Before your teacher rapped your knuckles for it, you
probably stuck a pencil in your mouth a few times. Maybe you ended up with a
mouthful of chalk dust after beating two erasers together. Or you dove for a
ball, a Frisbee, or a runaway pet hamster and ended up with some dirt between
your teeth. These are all tastes you might find in wine: the dryness of
graphite (which wine writers, however inaccurately, tend to label "lead
pencil"), the gritty powder of chalk, and the mushroomy flavor of black dirt.
Other common tastes include iron, steel, slate, and an ethereal wet-stone
There are a few wines that taste, not unpleasantly, like liquid rocks,
but in most, minerality is just another component. Like
minerality contributes as much to a wine's structure as it does to its taste.
And, as I noted above, its contribution to the identification of
Not all wines rock equally hard, however. Because they're not usually full of
explosive berry flavors, white wines tend to show minerality better than reds.
Furthermore, wines from marginal climates exhibit this quality more often than
those from dream climates. This helps explain why minerality is often more
associated with wines from Europe than from places like America, Australia, or
Chile. (Of course, some Europhiles then go on to assert that this minerality
makes European wines superior.
This is a mistake;
the wines simply express their character and
terroir in different ways.)
Wines with obvious minerality include virtually all those from the Loire
and grand cru
Burgundies, and most
rieslings from Germany, Austria, and
Alsace. It's almost impossible to miss the
minerality in riesling, which is what distinguishes one riesling (and one
vineyard) from another, and what makes riesling lovers so bonkers about the
I'll confess right here that I'm an absolute mineral freak. There is
something mystical about the idea that you can taste the land in a wine, a
connection-to-the-earth feeling not unlike eating vegetables straight from your
garden. Here, for veteran and novice stoners alike, are a few of the great
mineral-dominated wines I've had in the past few months. Rock on!
1997 Georg Albrecht Schneider Riesling Spätlese Neirsteiner
Hipping ($11). A classic German riesling in its perfect
balance between the
sweet and the bitter, with a spicy banana fruitiness offset by a limestone and
white pepper acidity.
A nearly endless finish, and a great bargain.
1996 Schoffit Pinot Blanc Auxerrois Cuvée Caroline ($15). Pale,
light, and clear, like a cream-drizzled bowl of honeydew, cantaloupe, apricot,
peach, tangerine, banana, and lemon. The tropical-fruit salad is cheery and
festive, but a solid mineral finish makes it a good deal more than a basic
quaffing white. Serve it with simple fish dishes.
1997 Les Vignerons de Tavel Tavel Cuvée Royale ($18). As serious
can get, with a rich mineral undercurrent to an earthy, spicy,
roasted-strawberry flavor. Tremendous wine for pizza on a lukewarm spring
1998 Vignobles Jérôme Quiot Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc
Domaine du Vieux Lazaret ($30). You'll be floored by this wine's exotic
floral richness coupled with stony minerality and a flawless
Drink it at release, or let it age
for at least five years, and serve it with a
creamy pork dish (or a seriously cheesy risotto).
Update on the battle in Washington over
direct wine shipment: Senators Strom
Thurmond and Orrin Hatch are going after interstate liquor shipments with all
guns blazing, and the national wholesalers' lobby (whose members will reap
heady financial rewards if their monopoly is preserved) is cheering them on.
The right of consumers to choose the wine they purchase is perilously close to
being lost. Keep tabs on the debate at
Meanwhile, call your senator and ask two very simple
questions: If shipment to minors is such a terrible risk, then why is the
wholesalers' lobby silent on in-state shipments (where they've already received
their cut of the profits)? And, given that wineries, retailers, and consumers
are willing to pay state liquor taxes and take steps to prevent shipment to
minors -- and given that the three-tier distribution system has not solved the
dual problems of full availability and protection of minors in the 70 years
it's had to address them -- what possible reason is there for the wholesalers'
monopoly to be preserved?
We're having another Uncorked tasting. This time, it's at
Laurel (142 Berkeley Street,
Boston), and promises to be . . . well, if not bigger and better,
than at least our third. The cost is again $1, a paltry sum for good food, great
wine, and David's famous speech. Drop by between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 6,
but call (617) 450-8615 to sign up: space will be limited.
Thor Iverson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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