Friday, December 30, 2011

Oxidation and minerality

Is oxidation increasing the minerality in wine? First time I heard this statement was from Anselme Selosse.

I don’t think many people think of oxidation and minerality to be closely tied together. We often associate minerality with a flinty, chalky or stony expression in wine and often we think of minerality as an element bringing a bright, frisky or fresh touch to wine. However there are also darker scented formations of minerality that can be notes of clay, sand, wet rocks or slate.

According to Peter Liem (Champagneguide; article on minerality (subscribers only) there is a lot of laziness connected by using the term, as we aren’t specific enough on what specific type of minerality we are talking about? 
I have to agree and I am guilty as sinned. I have even discovered – often at tasting events – the presences of a poised high acidity can confuse people what’s in fact the driver behind the freshness of the wine – is it minerality or acidity?
With this in the back of my mind I decided to open a wine, which plays with a rather oxidized profile.

2010 Nicolas Carmarans “Selves”
Blend: 100% Chenin blanc
Terroir: Granit and sand
Vineyards: Terrace - 500m above sea level
Location: We are in Aveyron – which is located in Massif Central
Sulphur: 2 mg/l at bottling
Other: Nicolas Carmarans has since 1994 been the owner of Café de la Nouvelle Mairie in Paris. Today he doesn’t run it – but focuses entirely on making wine.
Glass: Zalto Burgundy

I couldn’t help to compare this a little bit with “Chez Charles” from Noëlla Morantin – although we are far from Loire and it’s a different grape and terroir. The resemblance it’s the aromatic notes – which shapes like; late harvest honey, wet hay, caramel, hazelnuts, quince and exotic evening perfume. However “Selves” goes a step deeper and it’s also quit a bit more oxidized. As soon as it hits the mouth you also sense something different is going on – its texture is oilier, elastic – spanning a lush and luxurious mouth-watering wave across the palate. It’s a kind of wine, which is pretty seductive, but also a tense and rich wine, which aromatic and texture-wise easily could fall out of balance. However it’s on the last meters, were it sets full sail with a long sandy and elastic feel keeping a high intense nerve in the wine. When returning for the next sniff and taste – and knowing how the circle ends, you are pretty hooked to drink more. Also a good food wine I think – I could imagine scallops with some hazelnuts and Jerusalem artichokes could work great here – or cheese. Great wine – loved it.
So did I found the answer to my initial question? Maybe I did. Minerality is definitely a far more complex thing in wine and here it certainly seemed like there was a backbone holding on to these intense aromatic notes, which I couldn’t tie directly to a penetrating intense acidity – but something else.
There is only one way to find out if this is true – taste more, be less lazy and pay more attention to the terroir before you open the bottle.
Happy New Year everyone…drink something decent, something real, something that will make you feel more alive, something that matters, something that you can drink more of and kiss your loved ones and hope for the best ;-).


Flemming said...

Hi Thomas.
Thanks for all the postings in 2011 which i has enjoyed reading. Looking forward to many more in 2012,and hopefully somthing about glasses,just invested in Riedel Sommeliers Riesling,and what a difference it makes.
But off all i wish you and yours a Happy New Year.

Wine of the Month said...

This is one of the most informative information I've read. It really helps a lot. Thanks for sharing this and teaching some of your Idea's

Anonymous said...

Hey Thomas,

Great post. By coincedence I tasted a wine the other day which made me wonder about the same thing.

It was a Furmint from Somloi, Hungary from a producer called Apatsagi Pince. He produces his wines in an oxadative manner, sur lies. Just after opening to bottle the oxidation showed quite unpleasantly and then disappeared to show a great minerality given by the volcanic soil in the region. Definitely a region worth visiting if you're ever in that corner of Europe!

Anonymous said...


The last post was from Thijs

good food said...

Great post. And photo! Thanks!
My local wine pusher ;) asked me the same question lately about minerality and acidity. Is it possible to get this wine in CPH?

Thomas said...

@ Flemming…”Don’t mention the war” ;-)….I know about the glass thing. I have just started a new job, so time is a major problem for me. But I will try and thanks…good glass btw – I have it myself and have always loved it.

@ Wine of the month – thank you.

@ Thijs – what a coincidence – glad it turned out great at the end and thank you for the additional information.

@ Hi Tine – thank you…you are too kind. Yes it’s possible to get it – but I think the 2010 vintage is sold out for now – not 100% sure. You can get it here

Anonymous said...

Does a forceful aromatic component like oxidation enhance the sense of minerality, which is typically very feeble/fragile?
I can't see anything but the opposite correlation and I have never had a single wine suggesting the contrary. However, I have had lots of wine where oxidation effectively covered sense of place and minerality!
Is there in the 'minerality boosted by oxidation theory' any kind of level of oxidation suggested where minerality should be enhanced?


Thomas said...

Hi Ulrich,

Thank you for chiming in – your opinion is always appreciated.

This post is written in a curious way and something I wish to explore more of. I can agree that a huge amount of oxidation can be more about a style of winemaking – and less terroir, which equals a place of origin. Yet it’s more complex. Some of these oxidised wines – for instance Selosse Champagnes can start really heavy and oxidized in the glass – yet with air they firm up in the glass, showing more minerality…or so it seems. I have seen this happen also with several Jura wines. In addition a lot of lot of tasters find oxidation a flaw even at the smallest levels and can only taste oxidation and nothing else. It tells me, that there is a personal threshold vs oxidation…what is a flaw – what is an enhancement and what can bring something forward???

With “Selves” here – the minerality was really a big part of the wine – despite it’s also a wine with a fairly big amount of oxidation. Had it been the same if it had been made more “normal” or in a reductive way – I have no clue?

I don’t know the answer to the question you ask – but I wish to find out more.


Anonymous said...

Quote from Ulrich: 'minerality [..] is typically very feeble/fragile'

Now is that so, in your opinion? Really?


Anonymous said...

Yes, typically!
Through this defensive adverb I covered my bases – and diluted my argument! Maybe minerality is not hard to find in the wines that you typically drink, but most wines, yes.
There are very transparent wines, especially whites, where minerality is the main player - and these are incidentally my favourite wines - but clarity of minerality and sense of place is in my wine drinking experience, and even in mineral driven wines, always complicated by presence of oxidation, as is for instance botrytis.
I can't see the logic in the suggestion that oxidation should promote minerality, because from thousands of bottles I've only tried the very opposite. I personally love the fact that oxidation lends wines complex aromas when vinified well but that doesn't necessarily have a boosting effect on the sensation of minerality. My own experience tells me that there is a trade-off between minerality and oxidation.
On a much more serious level, I also see the theoretical problem in the belief system (in lack of a better word – I know; no dogmas etc.) of a ‘vin nature’ producer that oxidation inflicted by very low or no usage of sulphur impedes vineyard character. It’s in other words an own goal if non-intervention could be preventive to the very expression of the vineyard that a producer is trying to convey in the first place as a primary goal.
I can honestly see why an idea such as ‘oxidation boosted minerality’ is a convenient, yes even important for a wine producer that wants to convey terroir and produces wines with oxidation. In other words, I have a creeping suspicion that maybe this idea was formed out of the need of the idea to be formed rather than trying to explain a phenomenon.