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  • Rebecca Gouttenoire

Wines' dirty little secret?

Have you ever wondered about flavors and smell descriptors in wine?

We will definitely get back to this interesting subject in future blog posts, but today we'll examine how wine’s bouquet (smell) and taste are often linked to the soil the grapevines grow in.

In "wine tasting language" it's referred to as minerality - a slight saline, stony, soily sensation.

Wine writers & professionals frequently connect “mineral” taste in a wine to a specific soil, thus also creating a logical connection of wine to place. But this connection between minerality and soil is perhaps mostly emotional as there is no scientific proof thereof.

Recently I watched a program on TV where a well respected wine producer made an equally well respected Sommelier eat powdered stone from his vineyard to compare with the taste in his wines.

Firstly, let me cry out loud gross!!

But having done many, many wine tastings I realise power of suggestion with wine flavors is strong, even for the profs.

I've not tested dirt in my mouth, at least not since I was around 1. And I've personally been to many wineries over the years where stones and other goodies in the soil have been attributed to flavors in wines.

Fact is, if we don't demystify this it's confusing to consumers - we're creating emotional myths when in reality there's no secrets in the dirt, at least not when it comes to flavor!

So we need to give the Emperor some real clothes!

Soil talk is definitely an important context for growing vines and for quality of grapes. “Terroir” is a concept that comprises the specific area where a wine is produced given by natural and human factors (so microclimate, soil, tradition of winemaking, etc.).

And, yes, any given grape variety needs more or less specific growing conditions including the much-discussed soil, but not forgetting other factors though such as wind, sun, rain, bugs in the vineyard, yeasts and other microorganisms. It’s all interplay.

And then comes the winemaker, choices & skills. And the final wine is a result of a million different factors, or just about.

Minerality cannot be linked directly to the soil. It's way more complex. In fact, a recent study (see Drinks Business) suggests that it is much more likely taste in wine develops as an interplay between yeasts and bacteria.

It’s a relief that this myth is finally being accepted for what it is. For a while we all did like to think that the soil did magic, but confusing consumers with erroneous information doesn't make our job to educate people on wine any easier.

I hope with this I will steer anyone away from having to eat dirt. So have a glass of wine, mineral or not, and come to wine school in Florence & learn much more about wine & Italy at the Italian Wine Institute.


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