Apr 19, 2009
Up to now there have been 5 taste sensations clearly identified:
Sweet (or fruitiness), is usually perceived towards the front of the tongue. Saltiness towards the center of the tongue. Sourness (or acidity), is perceived towards the sides of the tongue. Bitterness, which is sensed predominantly at the back of the tongue and throat. Umami or “savory”, is a relatively new taste descriptor which is what you might expect to find in soy sauce, certain mushrooms and dishes that are rich in flavor and don’t really fit into the four basic taste sensations of sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
In my opinion, we are missing one more taste sensation, one that people in the wine world have been discussing, debating and arguing about for some years now. What I’m talking about of course is the topic, or the new taste sensation of “minerality”. Many of us wine nerds (no offense intended) have been describing certain wines as “minerally” for years now.
We have been discussing it for years when describing certain white wines such as Riesling’s, Sauvignon Blanc’s, Chablis’, Etna’s Carricante’s, etc. We’ve even become comfortable describing certain red wines using the term “mineratlity”. Barolo’s, Burgundies and so on. We use this term in a positive manner when describing wines considered to be of high quality. Another thing to think about regarding minerality – we tend to find it in wines made of grapes grown on vines that grow on chalky or volcanic soil (which is full of sulfur).
We have been debating it as well. What is “minerality”? Is it something that the grape has absorbed through the soil? Probably not, but many minerally wines are made from grapes grown on sulfurous volcanic soil. Can it be a characteristic of certain grapes? Perhaps. Or, is it merely the effect of volatile or reduced
sulfur compounds, more commonly referred to as reduction? Who knows??
We have been arguing over it as well. Does “minerality” exist? Many people firmly argue that “yes” it does, and continue to describe a wine’s characteristics as “minerally”. In fact, it has been used to denote a positive attribute in a wine. Wine’s that are “minerally” are often sought out and considered to be well made. Some argue that it can help a wine age gracefully. Other people argue that “minerality” doesn’t exist and what we are describing is simply “reduction” or volatile sulfur compounds. Reduction, which may bode well for certain Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs, and Burgundies is none the less, considered by many to be a fault.
Whichever the case, it’s here for now and I feel that it can be described as a taste sensation.
Since the sensation of “minerality” can’t be described as sweet, sour, salty, bitter nor umami, how should we describe it? The sensation of “minerality” isn’t perceived on any particular area of the tongue. It doesn’t show at the front, the sides or at the back. It isn’t a richness that we would find in Umami. In fact, the sensation of minerality seems to give the wine depth and concentration that the other taste sensations can’t accomplish on their own. It seems to fill up the entire mouth, and for this reason I can’t see how it fits into the other flavor sensations already defined.
Whatever it is that creates this “minerality” in certain wines, we may not be sure of for some time. Many of us will continue to use the term when describing wines, and we will also be the same people to consider it a good quality. So for now, I will consider it the 6th taste sensation. What do you think?