jamie goode's wine blog: Adolfo Hurtado's novel views on minerality

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Adolfo Hurtado's novel views on minerality

Last Friday, one of the things we discussed with Cono Sur winemaker Adolfo Hurtado was minerality in Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.

He has an interesting theory.

Most of the important Sauvignon Blanc vineyards he works with are close to the sea. For lengthy periods, they are blanketed in coastal fogs. (Pictured above is a fog developing on the Chilean coast.)

These coastal fogs, he claims, are salty. Any iron-containing metal structures near the sea rust almost immediately because of this.

The fog transmits small quantities of salt directly onto the grape skins, and thus the wines have a slight saltiness which presents itself as minerality.

What do you think?

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At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Margaret said...

Hmmm, very interesting idea. The first time I've heard it, but Adolfo would know!

At 1:52 PM, Blogger zoli said...

If memory serves, Manzanilla Sherry is said to be salty as well, the explanation is similar...

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Claude Vaillancourt said...

This seaside, saline character is pretty obvious to me in Casa Marin's Cipreses and Laurel Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc. These vineyards are only 4 km fron the Pacific ocean.

At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think minerality is about structure rather than saltiness. Many of the more inexpensive Muscadets and Txacolis have this agreeable saline quality, but one could not really say that they were mineral. The descriptors I would associate with minerality are stoniness, shell-like and metallic. Minerality is also invariably underpinned by focused "natural" acidity.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Wineguy said...

I find that the allusive quality of minerality is most often associated with wines with noticeable acidic balance.

Minerals, stones and such rarely have any real flavor, and the metallic character so often cited as a facet of minerallity is yet another catch phrase for acidity.

Salt is neutral, neither base nor acid. It does not have the metallic sharp taste usually associated with acids.

The salt may be imparting a flavor to the wines, and if so is that a good thing or not? For some cheeses and meats, and Sherrys the sea air has long been a selling point, but is it something you are looking for in your Sauvignon Blancs?

Whatever definition you use to define minerallity it seems unlikely that salty would be one of your descriptors.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger DermotMW said...

Oh dear, if it was that simple then where would we be? First off, Manzanilla (and Fino) are salty in taste not because the large NaCl molecules somehow get through the staves of completely impermeable barrels (oak is not as permeable to oxygen or other gases as people think and old barrels are completely stoppered with dissolved wine solids) but because they have zero sugar, acids (effectively), tannins and umami - the only five things we can taste. the saltiness, therefore, stands out.
Now, minerality - what is it? Simple - it's a lack of fruit ripeness. Think of Sancerre, Muscadet, etc. and what do we have - wines with low fruit levels but still with moderate to high levels of dry extract. Now think of New World chardonnay or even the dread SB - how mineral are they? Barely, unless from cool climates where the grapes ripen more slowly and to lower intensities.
Finally, if the SB is made WITHOUT skin contact then how does the salt get into the wine? And, if it is made with skin contact then it would be fruitier, wouldn't it?
Let's try to stop using words that no-one understands (or agrees upon) and try using some chemistry to test hypotheses before assuming that a winemaker knows what he or she is talking about.

At 8:45 PM, Anonymous Wink Lorch said...

The Sauvignon Blancs of the Loire - Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and others - are often said to show minerality and their vineyards are some of the farthest away from the sea of any in France. Geology is about my weakest wine-related subject, but maybe you could argue that the limestone soils in the Loire's Central Vineyards are old sea-beds so there's a connection, but if that's not far fetched I don't know what is.

Perhaps what hasn't been proven is exactly what a taster means by the term minerality, only if we understand that can we speculate on its source.

At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Alex Lake said...

I think we should take this idea with a pinch of salt. I'm with Dermot on this...

At 10:31 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

I'm not suggesting that all minerality is saltiness, by any means. But in the specific case of coastal Sauvignon, could this be a contributing factor?

Minerality is one of those hard-to-define tasting terms. I feel that I know it when I see it, even if I can't define what it is.

I love minerally wines.

I suspect acidity is something to do with it. Low level reduction may also contribute.

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Affieplaas said...

Try some Fryer's Cove Bamboes Bay SavBlanc if you like briney/minerality - the vines are a scant 820m from the Atlantic and 20 m above sea level. Truly maritime vines.

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. How can no one see that fog is water vapour that has condensated, i.e. H2O as pure as it gets? No salt, not any soluble, nuffin. So, Adolfo's idea doesn't work, full stop.

Now, if proximity to the coast absolutely had to play a role, one could argue that strong winds pick up salt-water spray and carry it inlands. This hypothesis is consistent with unprotected iron rusting quicklier, and can be tested by measuring NaCl contents of grape musts and vineyard soils. So please, feel free to do some science for a change.

That "minerality" is related to the lack of ripeness, is the strangest claim I've ever heard in that matter. If we don't know precisely what "minerality" is (and I agree with DermotMW on that), how can we know precisely where it comes from (or doesn't)? "We don't know what it is, but it's easily explained", is a very questionable view, to say the least.

Next, the underlying assumption that hot-climate grapes are intrinsically riper when harvested, is of course wrong, or at least too general to be true, not least because it is not stated which ripeness indicator is used to support this claim. What exactly is "fruit ripness", and what does it physiologically mean, i.e. how can it be measured? If the answers to that questions were that simple, many issues related to fruit ripeness would be non-issues. (And no, "minerality" is not one of them.)

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Jason said...

"Minerality" is one of the most ill-described and least understood concepts in enology. Lots of explanations:

1) It's a reflections of reduction (this is heard the most) - but we've all had reduced wines w/o any hint of minerality.

2)A result of sea fog? As one comment mentioned, fog is simply pure condensed water vapor and it does not carry other compounds such as salt. I've worked with grape vines growing just a few meters from the sea (close enough to feel sea spray) and grapevines and most rootstocks are very intolerant of saline conditions to the point that the health of the vine is at stake. Is there some magic threshold where salt is tolerable and actually contributes to the character of the grapes? I'm not holding my breath.

3)Lack of ripeness? There are lots of wines made with "under ripe" grapes but few would consider them as possessing minerality.

4) The best and most consistent explanation is that minerality has something to do with acidity. Personally, I've only seen minerality in French whites, and the French love acidic wines. I'm thinking of Chablis, with a level of acidity not really found in other parts of the world. And the best Chablis I wouldn't call under ripe either. But it can't merely be a function of acidity either, as many wines are acidified post harvest without a hint of minerality.

So what's the cause? I'd love to see some hard science on it.

At 9:30 PM, Blogger DermotMW said...

Hi again. I notice a few of the responses have misread my comments. I just want to clarify my idea, not to start an argument. I also hope to show that my concept is based on quite a bit of thought about this over the years.

Anonymous says "That "minerality" is related to the lack of ripeness, is the strangest claim I've ever heard in that matter" - I'm not sure how strange my idea is, see below. He then goes on to say "the underlying assumption that hot-climate grapes are intrinsically riper when harvested, is of course wrong," - I never stated anything of the sort. My concept is that grapes which have a low-level of fruit character (i.e. ripe primary fruit flavours) BUT with concentration ("moderate to high levels of dry extract") tend to have what most tasters describe as minerality. I reckon that if you did a series of blind tastings of wines, of all styles, then those with lower fruit definition (if that's a preferable term to fruit ripeness) but with good mid-palate depth would most likely be the ones to attract the mineral descriptor.

Jason also picks up on this point incorrectly - "There are lots of wines made with "under ripe" grapes but few would consider them as possessing minerality" - I didn't say under ripe nor did I imply that ALL wines with low fruit ripeness are mineral but that SOME are - those with concentration. In re "And the best Chablis I wouldn't call under ripe either", I'm sorry but that really requires a comment as most Chablis is still pretty lean and acidic and not what most people call ripe - The old WSET description was "lean, green and steely". Interestingly, in re the reduction concept, old-style Chablis was mineral and had loads of sulphur but newer, lower sulpher-level Chablis is mineral as well, so I'm not so sure on that one.

Jason also says that "Personally, I've only seen minerality in French whites..."; well try riesling or gruner veltliner from Wachau, Kamtal amd Kremstal in Austria - the acidity element comes into play here whereas my idea could fall with these wines as they can have high levels of fruit characters as well. However, silvaner or riesling from Franken in Germany are about as mineral as you can get and often have quite low fruit characters. Interestingly, Albarino grown in Rias Baixas in Spain (right on the sea) is crisp but rarely mineral and is often described as tasting like riesling crossed with viognier - the former giving the crispness, the latter the fruit.

In re the acidity aspect, well almost all German rieslings have high acidity yet very few are described as mineral - even the trocken styles don't have a mineral character. Looking back at my concept it's worth noting that these are wines from relatively high-yielding vines. So, I reckon my low-yield, low fruit with good concentration is doing alright here LOL.

I suggest Jamie organises such a tasting and invites us all to taste; I reckon it would be a fascinating day. Over to you, fellow Apostle.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

There is a way that salt could get into the coastal fogs - through small aerosols - of course, evaporation won't work. I'll wager that coastal fogs get a little salty through aersolization of sea water.


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