The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2013

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In Pursuit of Minerality story and photos by Randy Caparoso SOMMS HEAD FOR THE VINEYARD TO DISCOVER THE SOURCE OF MINERAL QUALITIES IN WINE Thomas Fogarty Winery winemaker Nathan Kandler with sommelier Nikki Schaeffer of TAG Restaurant in Denver, tasting in the Thomas Fogarty estate vineyards. W hen you become a sommelier and are privy to tastings of wines from around the world, you invariably develop an increased appreciation for wines that "taste of a place"—or as the French say, terroir. The current obsession with concepts like "balance" in lieu of sensations associated with oak, overripe fruit, alcohol or other excesses is really an expression of all of our longings for wines that taste more like where they are grown, rather than what happens when growers and winemakers intervene. But what of the taste in certain wines commonly described as minerality—is this part of terroir, too? It is, but not in the way you may think. Chablis in France, for instance, is often described as having a chalky-minerally taste, complementing fruit-related sensations of lemon and apple. The Loire's Pouilly-Fumé is often described as flinty, and Rieslings from Germany's Mosel-Saar-Ruwer are associated with a whole range of mineral sensations, from slate to flint and petroleum. The common assumption is that such mineral sensations are derived directly from the soil in regions such as Chablis, Pouilly-Fumé and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. "Bullshit," I once heard Santa Barbara winemaker Peter Cargasacchi say. "Vines do not have the capacity to uptake the taste of minerals through root systems. That's been proven over and over again." So if not from the actual earth, where does the taste of minerals in wines come from? Here's the scoop: More and more scientists are agreeing with Cargasacchi's empirical take—that the tiny amounts of dissolved ions typically absorbed by vine roots in the ground are never sufficient to contribute perceptible sensations of minerality in wines. But it is no coincidence that mineral sensations tend to be stronger in wines grown in colder climates, where grapes retain higher natural acidity. "Minerality," in other words, is a byproduct of total acidity and pH, not soil. In a recent tour of Santa Cruz Mountains organized for 30 sommeliers from across the country, we set out to demonstrate just that at Thomas Fogarty Winery, which grows Chardonnay in four separate estate vineyards, at 1,700- to 2,000-foot elevations. All four vineyards were planted in the early 1980s on similar trellis systems, all to the same clone of Chardonnay (U.C. Davis FPS 04), and all vinified the same way (native yeast barrel fermented, utilizing very little new oak). Sommelier Christopher Sawyer of Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar in Sonoma and wine journalist Elaine Brown taste Chardonnays in Thomas Fogarty's estate vineyards. Christopher Sawyer of Sonoma's Carneros Bistro shared these thoughts on our walk through these Chardonnay plantings: "For a true wine geek, the tasting of four separate bottlings of Clone 4 Chardonnay from Fogarty's four vineyard blocks was a favorite moment—each wine fantastic and distinctively different, based just upon degrees of sun exposure, slope and vine age." No question, the Chardonnays from Thomas Fogarty's two coolest, slower-ripening sites (named Portola Springs and Albutom Estate) tasted more distinctly of minerals, like "wet stones." Whereas the two warmer sites (Langley Hill and Damiana Vineyard) tasted more of exotic fruit, like pineapple-towards-peach, with very little minerality. On the palate, the higher acid Chardonnays coming from Thomas Fogarty's two cooler sites also correlated with increased minerality. Tasting, as always, is believing—especially when you have the opportunity to taste in vineyards where wines are grown! 34  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2013 TP0913_034-62.indd 34 8/22/13 9:21 PM

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