February 17, 2020

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Would you like some “minerality” in your Pinot Noir?

I found the reviews of Pinot Noir very curious in the January 31-February 29, 2020, issue of the Wine Spectator. There were 46 reviews of California Pinot Noir by Kim Marcus. The word, “mineral”, showed up in some form such as “vibrant minerality,” “minerally,” “mineral richness,” “minerally nuances” and “stone” in 19 or 40% of the reviews. 18% of 68 reviews of Oregon Pinot Noir by Tim Fish also included references to “minerality” such as “stony mineral notes,” loamy mineral,” “river stone,” “crushed stone,” and “stony mineral accents.”

In the March 31, 2019, issue of the Wine Spectator, Kim Marcus reviewed 21 California Pinot Noirs and used the word “mineral” and variants of that term in 40% of the reviews. In that same issue, Tim Fish referenced “minerality” in 26% of his Oregon Pinot Noir reviews, and used the term “stony minerality” in five separate reviews.

The word “minerality,” is a relatively new term that first appeared as a fashionable term in the wine lexicon about in the mid-1980s according to Jamie Goode. Minerality is absent from Emile Peynaud’s classic book, The Taste of Wine (1983) and UC Davis professor Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel (1984).

Minerality is a vague descriptive word for wine that has no common definition. Wikipedia defines it as a sense of mineral-ness as flavors of slate, schist, silex, etc. Winegrower Kevin Harvey of Rhys Vineyards is a believer in minerality in wine and defines it as “the aroma taste and tactile sensation in wine when grapes are grown on rocks.” In other words, minerality is something we associate with the smell and taste of rocky areas but have you ever really found much aroma in stones or actually tasted rocks? Being able to actually smell or taste vineyard geology in the form of minerals in Pinot Noir escapes me, especially since there is no evidence that minerals in the soil are transferrable to wine grapes.

Mike Waller, winemaker at Calera Wine Co., who has spoken at seminars on minerality and said, “I don’t get much minerality in red wines. I am an ‘atheist of minerality,’ preferring to ascribe minerality to the ‘lack of fruit expression.’” The problem with this definition is that if the wine isn’t fruity and lacks that attribute, does not mean by inference that a wine has minerality.

Minerality is perceived far more often in white wines presumably related to acidity and sulfur-based compounds due to reduction. It may be a mystical name for the redox phenomenon. Respected wine critic, Michael Bettane, said, “The only no-nonsense use is to describe a wine marked by salty and mineral undertones, more often a white wine rich in calcium and magnesium as many mineral waters are. For a red wine, I have no idea.”

Another sceptic is winemaker Greg Saunders of White Rose Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. He told me, “When we use language to convey meaning a basic premise is that we are using commonly defined terms. With minerality, we are not using a commonly defined term. If I say something tastes like blackberry, people can agree or disagree, but they can understand the reference. Minerality has no common reference and means different things to different people. Where I come from, if you cannot have a common definition, we usually say the word is BS.”

Perhaps the definition of winemaker Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards is useful, albeit vague, “The minerality of wine is experienced like a generation of tension in the mouth that is innately refreshing and energizing.” Similarly, wine researcher Clark Smith believes minerality is indefinable and attributes it to an “energetic buzz.”

I believe leaning heavily on the word minerality or its variants in reviews of wines like Pinot Noir relegates those reviews to the vagueness that the consumer finds puzzling and worthless. Robert Joseph wrote, “You ask a hundred people whether they want a wine with minerality and there is probably only two or three who have any idea what you are talking about.” Reviewers should use some reasonably well-defined words to portray a wine’s characteristics.


I just about fell out of my chair when I read in this same issue of the Wine Spectator reviews of four 2017 Kosta Browne vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs priced at $165!! I know that triple-digit domestic Pinot Noir is not rare these days, but who ponies up for $165? That is almost $2,000 a case not including tax and shipping. I will take the 2017 Maggy Hawk Jolie Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that is rated 95 in the issue and priced at $65 any day.

Kosta Browne was a staple at the annual World of Pinot Noir when crowds of pinotphiles would clamour around Dan and Micheal’s table. The owners usually ran out of wine within an hour. I noticed this year that Kosta Browne poured at the event as did Michael Browne’s newer labels, Cheu and Cirq.


Check out the article I wrote and is now published in the most recent (February) issue of Oregon Wine Press, “The Wine and Health Debate: A Closer Look at the Risk vs. Benefits of Moderate Drinking.” Read the article at www.oregonwinepress.com.

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