In-Person: “Licking Rocks”

Why do wine people light up when someone mentions limestone? How do you smell schist? Where is the taste of slate?
There’s more than one answer to the question! Part of the problem might be that a single word* is being used to mean a few things that are completely different from one another. Part of the problem might be that words themselves sometimes fail us. But of all of the ways to solve a problem, or untangle a riddle, the most fun way is to go digging into some actual wines.



Long, earnest caption to short silly meme follows:

You can’t taste limestone. You can’t smell schist. Roots don’t suck up crystals like a straw. (Geologists who don’t drink are always telling me this.)

Here are some things absolutely you *can* do: 

– measure pH differences between different soils and feel the resulting differences in acidity and freshness as your mouth waters;

– taste the saltiness and crystalline texture and tingly sensation of trace amounts of minerals like potassium and magnesium, part of the dry extract that can comprise as much as 2% or so of a finished wine;

– use a microscope to view tunnels bored into bedrock by mycorrhizal fungi busily transforming inorganic material into trace nutrients (eg. potassium, magnesium) accessible to the plant root systems they have symbiotic relationships with;

– smell the smoky, flinty volatile sulfur compounds that can arise during fermentation for a variety of reasons, one of which is the nutrient content of the grapes that are fermenting;

– notice after tasting a hundred wines grown on the same soil type that there’s a thing-ness to them that they have in common, an inarticulable energy they share that’s brought about by complex, indirect causes;

– use the name of that soil (“limestone”) as a metonymic shorthand for that energy;

– “taste limestone” and “smell schist”


The Tasting
We returned to Winona’s on Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021. We tasted elbling on limestone 2 ways, from Matthias Hild + Jonas Dostert. We tasted chenin on schist from Benoit Courault, and talked about reduction. We compared the textures of Rías Baixas red and Roussillon skin-contact on granitic sand. We tasted pineau d’aunis from Julien Pineau and trousseau from Jason Lett, and asked what minerality might mean in red wines.

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