Wine Digest: Minerality

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Each week, Nopa’s Staff gathers for a thematic hour of wine tasting and education. Below are the notes from the prior weeks host, Mr. Nick Elias. 

Minerality is a divisive topic in the wine world. Food scientists often argue that it is a figment of sommelier’s imaginations, or a scheme to sell wine by inventing complexity where there is none. For serious wine drinkers though, the ability of a wine to taste like the ground it originates from is one of the most visceral reminders that wine is a product of the earth. It is difficult to define minerality. It presents itself differently in different wines and changes from palate to palate. It requires imagination, and a level of comfort with discussing the aromatic qualities of various types of dirt. This week, we explored some classic examples of wines whose mineral character could convert even the most quantitative tasters.

Agrapart 7 Crus NV, Avize

As most great things in life do, this tasting began with a glass of champagne. Agrapart is headquartered in Avize, although they have vineyards operating in 7 different villages throughout the department, thus the name of this bottling–7 Crus. This champagne is made with 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir and grown on chalky soils. The remuage, or riddling is done by hand, and the dosage is kept limited in order to allow the minerality of this wine to shine.

Classic chardonnay aromas of dandelion, yellow apples, and chamomile tea dominated the nose of this wine rather than the broader, yeasty aromas prevalent in other examples from the region. The result was a champagne with a feeling of laser-like focus. The bracing acidity and the tooth numbing mouthfeel served as great reminders that although champagne has come to mean luxury, the heart of the place is in it’s austere soils.

Montirius “Mineral” 2011, Vacqueyras

Montirius is a Biodynamic producer committed to making wines that reflect the rich mineral potential of the southern rhone. This bottling is made from Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne and is designed to reflect the “Garrigues” soil this wine hails from.

Behind the white flowers and scintillatingly plastique nose, the mineral nature of this wine dominates the palate. An interesting departure from the more chalky examples from earlier in the tasting, this wine was decidedly… pebbly. As if you took a small, smooth river rock and popped it into your mouth. Admittedly, this sensation is easily lost in translation, but the result is a brilliant, complex wine that transports the drinker to another, probably rockier place.

Domaine Rimbert “Mas Au Schiste” 2011, Saint Chinian

Jean Marie Rimbert moved to the Languedoc 25 years ago in order to try his luck making carignane, an underloved varietal capable of producing some wonderfully quaffable and at the same time soulful wines. Now, Domaine Rimbert has holdings in the village of Berlou, an area which boasts a unique soil full of schist, a black metamorphic rock. This wine is a blend of Carignane, Syrah, and Grenache.

Domaine Rimbert’s labels display a rabbit, and while it may have just been my imagination playing with me, I would be hard pressed to name a better spirit animal. Underneath the rich, floral blackberry nose was a coiled electric intensity like a hare preparing to sprint across a meadow. This energy was the result of the distinctively animal syrah underlined with the sense that you were tasting wet, black rocks. This wine gave me the sensation that I was walking outside during a summer rain. The blackberries are in season, but the ground is wet.

Featured Wine: Domaine du Beru “Clos Beru” Monopole 2010, Chablis

Domaine du Beru owns exclusive rights to the Clos Beru, which they argue is one of the stoniest vineyards in Chablis. They plow their land by horse, and boast 30 year old chardonnay vines whose roots dig deep into the kimmeridgian clay which has made Chablis famous. The soil here is full of fossilized sea life, making it impossible to forget that this area was once an ocean. Chablis is inland, but the wines here taste like they are longing for the sea.

Clos Beru is a stunning wine, simply put. The delicate dandelion and yellow pear aromas that I so closely associate with white burgundy are married to a distinct salinity and chalky mouthfeel that make this wine unmistakably Chablis. This is a complete wine, but it made me yearn for an endless plate of sweet, fresh oysters.

Minerality is a challenging topic, but one’s understanding of wine could never be complete without it. For many wines, it is the heart and soul. It is the thing that elevates wine above grape juice, and reminds us that this is a beverage of place.

– Nick Elias