The People of Hallgarten: Christo Eliott Lockhart

The people of Hallgarten! Whilst everybody is currently working from home, we took this as an opportunity to help you get to know the team better. Today we have spoken to Christo Eliott Lockhart, Sales Manager in the Hallgarten London team.

 

How long have you worked for Hallgarten and what do you do there?

I have just completed 2 enjoyable years at Hallgarten. I am a Sales Manager in the London sales team. I have a very varied role looking after four account managers, also selling to the London restaurants and Independent Wine Merchants. I also look after the Fine Wine Merchants and Brokers in and around London.

What first got you into wine?

I was introduced to wine at the age of 14 as my French Exchange’s family (we are still good friend – He is my youngest daughter’s Godfather) are Billecart-Salmon Champagne. I went to visit and was initially fascinated by the size of a champagne cork before going into the bottle. Much later, during university I needed a holiday job and spent a summer working in wine and then on graduating I went back to the same job and within 2 weeks they had offered me a full time role. That was 20yrs ago…It’s all I know now!

Tell us about your hobbies or a random fact about yourself.

I am a mad keen sportsman (both as a fan and player). When not quarantined due to Coronavirus will play pretty much anything particularly golf, cricket, tennis, squash, skiing, hockey, football (not allowed to play rugby anymore!). I am lucky that my wife lets me and my young daughters also have the sports bug. I am also a trustee of the Wine Trade Sports Club Foundation supporting people in our industry who have fallen on hard times.

A random fact about myself?

Random fact is that I am a qualified Game Ranger (in South Africa)…Oh and I play the bagpipes.

The Wine Gold Mine

The Eastern Mediterranean is a gold mine for wine, which is finally beginning to see its well-deserved place on the UK wine shelf. The region is home to some of the oldest wine producing countries and it really shows as the wines are so pure. Many of the wines are often produced from one of the hundreds of indigenous grape varieties grown in the area. The below are top picks from the UK Eastern Mediterranean wine pioneer, Steve Daniel.

Idaia Winery, Dafnes, Crete, Vidiano 2019

“Amazing, fresh, intense and mineral Cretan grape. Like standing on a hillside overlooking the Aegean, you can almost smell the salty sea air and the mountain herbs and it’s great value. Crank up the BBQ stick on the seabream or seabass, and away you go.”

Jako Vino, Stina ‘Cuvee White’, Dalmatia 2018

“The island of Brač is one of the most popular of the Croatian islands and a short hop from Split. Wonderful white wine from precipitous white stone slopes overlooking the town of Bol and the Adriatic Sea. A unique blend of Pošip (intense and mineral) and Vugava (exotic like

Viognier) with a splash of Chardonnay. The famous white stone from the island has been quarried for centuries and the white stone even built the White House.”

Kayra, Beyaz Kalecik Karasi Rosé, Aegean, 2018

“Imagine yourself sitting in the harbour of Kalkan, watching the sunset, feasting on meze. A beautiful pale pink, delicate orange scented rose with just a touch of sweetness.”

 

Bodegas Viñátigo, Marmajuelo, Islas Canarias – Tenerife 2018

“An amazing rare wine from a grape now only found in the Canaries, which was discovered and brought back from the brink by Doctor Grape: Juan Jesus Mendez.

“This is an enormously rich, intense and aromatic white wine

fermented in a blend of stainless steel and concrete egg fermenter. Tiny amounts are produced every year, and most of it is guzzled by the locals and discerning tourists. We manage to get an allocation every year.”

Bodega Biniagual, ‘Finca Biniagual Negre’, Mallorca 2014

“A rich and intense spicy red made from the local Manto Negro red grape with the addition of Syrah and Cabernet. A great substitute for wherever you would use the best Malbec you can get your hands on. The perfect alfresco BBQ wine.”

Château Oumsiyat, ‘Cuvée Membliarus’, Bekaa Valley, Assyrtico 2018

“A great value Assyrtiko, and Lebanon’s first and only one! Assyrtiko may well have been taken to Santorini by the Phoenicians, so this might be a case of the grape going back to its original home. A brilliant partner to grilled seafood and all sorts of other Lebanese delights.”

Lighten up the lockdown period with these three styles of wine

When you’re in the wine trade in these times of lockdown, a glass of wine after work once you’ve shut the laptop down is what keeps you sane! Here are some of our Hallgarten Head Start Apprentice, Amca Zago’s ‘go-to’ styles of wine with a recommendation for each.

 

  1. What better way to lighten your mood than some bubbles?

The sound of the cork popping, the crackling noise the bubbles make when you pour the wine into the glass and the first sip of your well-deserved wind down time – that surely is happiness for everyone? There are so many styles of sparkling wine to choose from, but my ‘go-to’ at the moment and the one which is putting the biggest smile on my face is a little-known vino frizzante from Emilia-Romagna produced using the Pignoletto grape variety.

As an alternative to Prosecco, Pignoletto Frizzante is often produced in a Charmat (tank) method, however the effervescent is usually softer than that of Prosecco. Cevico ‘Romandiola’ is a slightly unique Pignoletto Frizzante as it spent 15 days on its lees which makes for a much fuller, creamier and harmonious palate.

  1. While waiting to get away, why not have a wine from your favourite holiday destination

Hardly not being allowed to leave your house let alone the country, you have to bring the holiday back home. Holiday to me is often all about the wine, drinking with the sound of waves crashing on the rocks, sea mist filling the air and the sun beaming down.

Therefore, while the sky is blue, try sitting outside (possibly with a coat on, we are in England after all) with a crisp, aromatic glass of Bodegas Viñátigo Marmajuelo from the Spanish island of Tenerife. If you close your eyes (and ignore the temperature) the bright aromas of passion fruit and fig tree leaves along with the racy acidity can really make you feel as if you were truly on holiday.

  1. Being in the wine trade, you always have to be drinking something a little different

You don’t always need a style of wine as your ‘go-to’. Why no

t pick up a bottle of something you’ve never heard of, never tasted or always wanted to try? Sometimes, especially if you work in the wine trade, you have to expand your palate and knowledge by tasting the out-of-the-ordinary, unique and exciting wines. This includes a huge range of styles; from orange and natural wines, to indigenous grape varieties, to small producers.

These wines can be anything that will make your eyes open wide, put a smile on your face and make your taste buds pop. There are so many interesting wines which are worth trying during the ‘lockdown’ period, so why not start with a wine from the country which is considered to be the birthplace of wine… Armenia. Armenia has many indigenous grape varieties, each with their own characteristics, however the white grape variety Voskehat is a good choice for the spring/summer time and while the sun is shining. The ArmAs Voskehat has intense and complex aromas which follow through onto the long, elegant palate.

Go and make your lockdown that little bit more enjoyable by pouring yourself out that glass of wine!

 

 

 

The People of Hallgarten: Enid Jacobs

Whilst everybody is currently working from home, we took this as an opportunity to get to know the team better. Today we have spoken to Enid Jacobs, Customer Delivery Advisor with 17 years of experience at Hallgarten.

How long have I worked for Hallgarten and what do you do there?

It will be my 17th Anniversary this July, but it seems like only yesterday that I joined the delivery team. In the team, it is my responsibility to ensure that orders are delivered on time and in full! We work very closely together and the left hand always know what the right hand is doing which we like to think results in our excellent delivery service.

What first got you into wine?

Funnily enough it was when I worked for Dunlop Tyres – also on Dallow Road – back in the 80’s. It was Friday tradition to share a large bottle of Liebfraumilch. That was my first experience of wine, however since then, I think hopefully I have evolved. The standing joke with all of the girls in the office was to work for the wine company up the road and 17 years later here I am.

Tell us about your hobbies or a random fact about yourself.

As my colleagues in Hallgarten know I love to cook – I think I’m a bit of a dab hand at it and often get requests for my cakes in the office. In previous years our warehouse operatives and my boss Phil would request a recipe my mother used to make – Chinese Pork.

A random fact about myself?

I appeared on ITV’s ‘Airline’ tv programme with some friends 15 years ago after EasyJet unfortunately changed our flights. Fortunately the camera crew took us to the bar, wine was involved and it turned out to be very entertaining!

WOTM: ArmAs, Aragatsotn, Voskehat 2018

Armenian wines are a recent addition to our portfolio, discovered by head of buying, Steve Daniel. Founded by Armen Aslanyan, ArmAs is revitalising Armenia’s historic winemaking legacy. Situated on the 45th parallel, the 180 hectare estate is surrounded by a 17 kilometre brick wall – the Great Wall of Armas – set against the backdrop of Mount Ararat. The Voskehat grape literally translates to “Golden Seed” in the old Armenian language and our April wine of the Month, ArmAs, Aragatsotn, Voskehat 2018, is certainly a golden wine, long and elegant, with a streak of minerality.

In a nutshell

Intense and floral aromas of fennel, green apple, fresh rosemary and lime are complemented by subtle spice and mineral undertones, fresh and tingly on the finish.

The producer

Armenia is considered to be the birthplace of wine, with biblical references to the region being planted with vines. Armenia also hosts the site of the oldest known winemaking ruins, which date back 6100 years. Founded by Armen Aslanyan, ArmAs is revitalising Armenia’s historic winemaking legacy. Situated on the 45th parallel, the estate covers 180 hectares of stunning vineyard and orchards, on an undulating terrain of complex soils set against the backdrop of Mount Ararat. Winemaker Emilio del Medico pays homage to this heritage by creating elegant and distinct wines from estate grown native varieties.

The wine

The grapes were carefully selected to maintain the highest quality. Fermentation took place at 16 to 17°C with selected yeasts in stainless steel to retain the purity of fruit. Maturation of eight months on the lees with weekly bâtonnage, imparted texture and complexity to the resulting wine.

 

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Lebanese Wines

There seems to be little knowledge about Lebanese wines within the UK even though the Bekaa Valley has been producing wines for over 6,000 years, making Lebanon one of the oldest wine producing countries! However, Lebanon Law under the Caliphate meant that wine production had to stop other than amongst Christians for religious reasons. This meant that modern day winemaking didn’t take place until 1847. So what is there to know about Lebanon wine production and Lebanese Wine?

 

1 – The Temple of Bacchus

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon is home to The Temple of Bacchus, the god of wine, winemaking and grape harvest – surely this means that Lebanon is also the home of wine and wine production.

2 – Lebanese wine is exported to over 30 countries

Lebanon produce around 8 million bottles a year (less than 1% of French wine!), however the wines are still exported to over 30 countries! Of these, the UK is the top country for exporting, yet the UK wine consumers are still often unaware of Lebanon as a wine producing country.

3 – The Only Assyrtiko in Lebanon

The Greek grape variety Assyrtiko pairs perfectly with Eastern Mediterranean foods including Greek, Turkish and you guessed it, Lebanese. Chateau Oumsiyat was the first producer to vinify the crisp and citrusy grape variety in Lebanon, ‘Cuvee Membliarus’. The wine is best paired with Lebanese small plates and Mezze.

4 – The Lebanese Bordeaux Blend

Lebanon produces many wines of similar style and grape varieties to Bordeaux and the South of France. Lebanon was occupied by the French until 1943, could the French occupation be the reasoning for the plantings of French grape varieties resulting in French blends? Chateau Oumsiyat Jaspe (the French word for variegation) and Grande Reserve are two examples of Lebanese wines using French varietals and produced in a ‘French’ style. As well as producing Bordeaux red styles, Chateau Oumsiyat (and other Lebanese producers) also cultivate and produce white Southern French styles, such as the mouth watering Chateau Oumsiyat Blanc de Blanc.

5 – Two Indigenous Grape Varieties

Within the 2,000 hectares of Lebanon under vine, there are over 25 different international and local varieties grown. The two most widely planted indigenous varietals are Obeidy and Merwah, both white grape varieties. Obeidy is an aromatic variety which has characteristics of exotic and tropical fruits, Chateau OumisyatObeidy’ has exotic flavours with hints of peach and a touch of minerality which travels through to a clean salty finish.

Is it time to go and try some Lebanese wine?

WOTM: Herdade do Rocim, Rocim ‘Fresh from Amphora – Nat’ Cool’, Alentejo 2018

A star of the show at our recent Minerality: Steve Daniel, in conversation with Jamie Goode discussion, Herdade do Rocim, Rocim’ Fresh from Amphora- Nat’ Cool’, Alentejo 2018 is made from organically grown grapes; 70% of the vineyard is certified and the remaining 30% is in conversion. The grapes – Moreto 40%, Tinta Grossa 30%, Trincadeira 30% – come from very old vineyards, which are made up of only ancient, native varieties. Can you taste the minerality?

In a nutshell

Aromas of fresh red fruits are complemented by earthy and savoury notes with a light and balanced palate.

The producer

Herdade do Rocim is an estate located between Vidigueira and Cuba, in the Lower Alentejo. It comprises 120 hectares, 70 of which are made up of vineyards and 10 hectares of olive trees. Since its inception in 2000, Herdade do Rocim has invested heavily in the vineyards, replanting vines and introducing new varieties. They are pioneers in ‘amphora wines’, following the ancient traditions of vinification in pots known as ‘Tahla’. The vineyard is cultivated manually and minimal intervention is used in the cellar, to produce fresh, elegant and mineral wines. In 2018, Herdade do Rocim was awarded Best Wine Producer by Revista de Vinhos.

The wine

Naturally vinified without any additions or must corrections. The fruit was carefully selected in order to vinify only the highest quality berries. Fermentation took place with indigenous yeasts in traditional clay amphora pots known as ‘Tahla’. The process took place without any intervention, including temperature control. The wine was aged for three months with skin contact which imparted complex aromas and flavours, resulting in this distinctive wine. This wine may create a natural deposit.

Head Start: Part One – Customer Services

As part of Hallgarten’s Head Start Apprenticeship scheme, inaugural recruit, Amica Zago, spent her first three months at Hallgarten learning the ropes in the Customer Services Team. Reflecting on her time in the team, Amica sees the three months as the ideal start in the business. The Head Start scheme is an 18 month long programme to develop the future talent of the wine industry, providing a 360-degree perspective of the wine sector from vineyard to table.

After graduating from Plumpton College (University of Brighton) with a 2:1 in Wine Business, I was very fortunate to find the job of my dreams within the industry. Even better, it’s an 18-month Graduate Apprenticeship Programme lled “Head Start”, allowing me to work and learn from each department across all of the business.

After the first 10 months I will have gained experience within Customer Service, Marketing, Finance, Logistics and National Accounts teams. I will then be spending a month abroad with one of our major suppliers working through the harvest season, returning to Luton and joining the Sales team for the last six months of the apprenticeship.

Andrew Bewes: “Nurturing the future talent of the wine industry is essential to the development of the sector we work in and it is our responsibility to help guide these individuals to the next level. We devised the Head Start programme to give apprentices the tools to be able to embrace any aspect of the sector we work in and provide added value to customers.”

 

After completing an internship with the company in the summer of 2018, in September 2019 I was excited to be back and was warmly welcomed back into the company and introduced to my new supervisor. Within the first few hours I had settled in, now knowing there was nothing to fear, I was definitely starting to enjoy this new opportunity. Now three months into the role, I’ve just finished working within the Customer Service Team (CST) and have to say what a lovely team to be in: fun and so knowledgeable!

Having now completed my secondment within CST, I realise how starting out as a Customer Service Advisor gives you great insight into the company, learning the diverse and exciting wine list and being able to understand how the Customer Service and Delivery Teams aid the sales organisation, ensuring that customers are able to receive their orders within their requested time window – I never thought customers would have such precise delivery slots!

The main role of a Customer Service Advisor is to input all the orders, these are received via email and phone, and come from both the Sales Representatives and customers directly. This does mean that you’re constantly multitasking between the PC and phone calls… at times I was liaising with other teams within the business one minute, perhaps talking to the delivery team, and then on the phone to a customer – you need to keep a cool and level head at all times. The role has definitely improved the way I interact, both spoken and written and raised my confidence levels immensely.

I have known for a while that my dream job within the wine industry is to become a Sales Representative, working in Customer Service has taught me a lot about how important it will be to have a really good working rapport with the back office. Now I know what information I need to provide to ensure CST have everything they need, I’m sure that my orders always go through smoothly! Without them and their great work, my future customers will be on the phone to me complaining – and that’s not what anyone wants!

And now, on to marketing… I’ll be back with another blog soon…

 

WOTM: Grace Wine, Koshu Kayagatake, Yamanashi 2018

Our February Wine of the Month is made from Japan’s most important indigenous grape variety – Koshu. The grapes for Grace Wine, Koshu Kayagatake, Yamanashi 2018 are grown in distinctively volcanic soils with good drainage, providing excellent growing conditions for the Koshu grape. Come and taste it at the Wines of Koshu tasting on 05th February, at 67 Pall Mall. 

In a nutshell:

Lovely expression of fresh melon and apple fruit with hints of fennel and wet stone through to a bone dry, salty and mouthwatering finish.

 

The producer:

Grace Wine was established in 1923, in the Katsunuma province, the birthplace of the Japanese wine industry. Committed to the belief that great wine is made in the vineyard, they were the first to research and introduce European training and pruning methods introducing such as using long cordon training and Vertical Shoot Positioning in 1990. The wines are made in a modern way to retain the delicate characteristics of this individual and exciting grape variety.

The wine:

The grapes were gently pressed in a pneumatic press before being fermented at controlled temperatures in stainless steel to preserve the naturally occurring acidity and pure fruit flavours of the Koshu variety. The wine was matured in stainless steel tanks, where it spent three months on its fine lees adding richness and complexity.

Winemaker profile: Stefanie Weegmüller

The wine women of Weegmüller are part of over 300 years of remarkable winemaking history.

Weingut Weegmüller is considered the oldest winery in Pfalz. This is quite a feat in an area with so much history but their reputation for great winemaking has long and solid foundations dating back centuries. The winery was started in 1685 and has been in the family for an impressive 12 generations. The family’s origins can be found in Zurich, Switzerland but they can date their time in Haardt back to 1657.  Despite all this history they still have a consistently forward looking focus, always striving to maintain and improve the quality of their wines.

Today, the winery remains based in the same baroque buildings that have been on the site since the 1730s. Weegmüller is set apart by being one of very few German wineries run exclusively by women. Today, sisters Gabriele and Stefanie Weegmüller work together to drive the business forward and ensure the continuing production of high quality wines. Their focus on quality and terroir means they carefully consider which grape varieties and wine styles will best show the region as its finest. With Gabriele managing the commercial side, Stefanie is able to focus fully on creating the best possible wines which rightly earn their reputation for excellence.

Stefanie has been Cellar Master for more than 30 years and was notably one of the first female winemakers in Germany at a time when the industry was especially male dominated. Her career began in 1984 when she took over winemaking responsibility from her father and a reputation for technical prowess and a clear passion for precise winemaking was quickly evident. As a result, Stefanie has spent over 25 years making some of the highest quality wines in Pfalz. She demonstrates a thorough understanding of the complex winemaking process but also imbues a lot of heart and soul in to Weegmüller’s wines. This enables the production of classic wines which are delicate and pure, perfectly expressing the terroir and showing generous fruit and length.

 

WOTM: Tahbilk, ‘1927 Vines’, Nagambie Lakes, Marsanne 2012

Recently described in The Buyer as ‘quite exquisite’ by restauranter, Roger Jones, our January Wine of the Month is Tahbilk, ‘1927 Vines’, Nagambie Lakes, Marsanne 2012. Produced from the Estate’s 1927 planted Marsanne vines – some of the oldest in the world – this 100% Marsanne will provide a real talking point with guests in 2020.

In a nutshell

Notes of lemon, grapefruit, toast and classic honeysuckle weave through the rich and textured palate culminating in a zesty, citrussy finish.

The producer

Established in 1860, Tahbilk is an historic family-owned winery,  renowned for their rare aged Marsanne. Tahbilk is known as ‘tabilk tabilk’ in the language of the Daungwurrung clans, which translates as the ‘place of many waterholes’. It perfectly describes this premium viticultural landscape, which is located in the Nagambie Lakes region of Central Victoria. The estate comprises 1,214 hectares, including a seven mile frontage to the Goulburn River. Environmental sustainability is paramount at Tahbilk and in 2013 they became carbon neutral. In 2016, Tahbilk was awarded ‘Winery of the Year’ by James Halliday.

The wine

The hand-picked grapes were handled semi-oxidatively; controlled amounts of oxygen were allowed which helped impart secondary flavours and texture to the wine. Fermentation took place with selected neutral and aromatic yeasts at cool temperatures and lasted for 20 days in stainless steel fermenters to enhance the purity of fruit. Made with naturally high acidity to support serious long-term ageing, it was matured in bottle for seven years.

The Perception of Minerality

I first used the expression salt-and-caramel in a tasting note about four years ago. My memory is a little hazy, but I think I scribbled it during a sampling of Juan Pablo Michelini’s Zorzal wines at Prowein. I was searching for words to describe the amazing tang which cut right through the sweet fruit in the red wines; a kind of refreshing acidity at odds with the opulence around it. I thought the phrase a little childish but that it would mean easy recall when I referred to my notes later.

And then, of course, I found myself writing that phrase again and again. Salt-and-caramel. Slightly irritating habit, this, like wiggling your leg in the waiting room. What was happening? Were my taste buds changing? After thirty years in the trade? Odd.

I recalled that Prowein moment a few weeks ago while reading a Wine Folly blog, I Tasted 3 Rocks, So that you don’t have to! In this light-hearted piece, posted in May 2019, Madeline Puckette described licking pieces of chalk, river stone, and slate. She found the connection between slate and Riesling to be apposite; that “chalk feels like licking a hard sponge that sucks all the moisture out of your mouth,” the flavour reminding her of a Brut Zero Champagne; and that while “river stone is supposed to remind people of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir,” its flavour is pretty gross.

Puckette was seeking to explain minerality, but concluded: “Minerality is neither a single compound nor the vines” ability to “suck the minerals out of the soil,” but is a combination of many different aspects including esters, trace minerals, acidity level and a wines’ alcohol level. So, when wine writers write “minerality” they are trying to put a name on a multi-faceted characteristic that science doesn’t have a definition for.”

It’s a bit old hat, this minerality thing. Been done to death. A bit late to the party. And as Alice Feiring said: “Minerality has become a dirty word par excellence.”

Walking between the raindrops, then.

I know, but it doesn’t go away.

Minerality famously did not appear in Ann Noble’s 1984 Wine Aroma Wheel, nor in the first four editions of The Oxford Companion to Wine (“imprecise tasting term and elusive wine characteristic that, along with the descriptor mineral, became common currency in the early years of this century.”) But here are two definitions relayed by Jamie Goode in his Wine Science:

Stephen Spurrier: “I suppose it is easier to define what it is not – that is, it is not fruit, nor acidity, nor tannins, nor oak, nor richness, nor fleshiness. It is not really a texture, either, for texture is in the middle of the palate and minerality is at the end. I think it is just there, a sort of lifted and lively stoniness that brings a sense of grip and a sense of depth, but it is neither grippy (which is tannin) nor deep (which is fruity.)”

Michael Bettane: “Minerality is a fashionable word never employed in the 1970s and 1980s. The only no-nonsense use is to describe a wine marked by salty and mineral undertones balancing the fruit, more often a white wine rich in calcium and magnesium as many mineral waters are. For a red wine I have no idea.”

Now Goode himself: “I know what I mean when I encounter some characteristic in a wine that makes me think “mineral”, but I can’t be sure that when other people use it they are referring to the same thing. I suspect that it’s sometimes used as a way of praising a deliciously complex wine, in the same way that “long” is often thrown into a tasting note when people really like the wine but have run out of more concrete descriptors.”

Similar sentiments from Sam Harrop: “Minerality is a term I have used for many years with a clear and personal understanding that not all wine professionals might share.”

But what is it that provokes these “allusions to minerality,” to use Doctor Peter Dry’s words? A prickling on the tongue, or a savoury aroma on the nose? And – from a commercial point of view – does describing a wine as mineral confer a kind of supremacy? A more romantic artisanal image?

Beverly Tabbron MW, Jim Wilson and Steve Daniel.

Steve Daniel, Beverly Tabbron MW and I had a chat about this in Hallgarten’s tasting room. Steve, fresh from describing one wine as “saltier than a bag of KP nuts,” said: “There is definitely minerality in wine. It has to be there. It’s not acidity, it’s not body. It’s a skeleton which will change but which will let you know where the wine is going.” Steve strongly believes that there is a relationship between minerality and volcanic soils, such as those on his beloved Santorini.

For Bev, minerality is shorthand for a “form of freshness, a salinity. Sometimes I wonder if it is a mild spice.” Then she paused. “But are we just being lazy?”

It seems an elusive concept. Are we searching for a connection between this taste and – inevitably – the impression of rock from which the vine draws its nutrients?

Two well-recounted experiments:

At the end of the 20th century, a German scientist, Andreas Peuke, planted Riesling in three different pots with different soils (Loess, Muschelkalk and Keuper). After some time he collected the resin from the plants, analysed them and compared them. To his surprise, there was a huge deviation in the nutrient levels in the three plants. A definite connection?

Randall Grahm soaked rocks into tanks filled with wine; he too, concluded that the rocks altered the wine to a great extent, detecting changes in the aromas and mouthfeel, and he felt that the wines had gained a higher degree of complexity and density.

But as we know, the correlation between minerality in rocks and minerality in wine has been largely debunked over the last decade by some really clever people, most famously by Alex Maltman, professor of earth sciences at Aberystwyth University, who opined that the geological minerals in rocks (made from chemical elements) are different from the fourteen nutrient mineral elements required by vines. The rock’s chemical elements do not degrade easily and only slowly release their nutrients for vegetation. Then, some of these nutrients are then removed each year in crops, and the soil is further enriched by compost and fertiliser. The result is that almost all of the nutrients in wine come from this humus of decayed plant and animal matter, rather than the geology.

“There would seem to be no basis for the common assertion that a particular kind of bedrock produces certain wine flavours. The term minerality is a contemporary invention.”

Viticultural guru Dr Richard Smart told the Institute of Masters of Wine that viticulture “is not an issue” in wine minerality: of those fourteen nutrient mineral elements, “three of the most important (N, P, S) are not derived from minerals; they are absorbed directly from soil organic matter (humus). Even those which are commonly found in minerals (K, Ca, Mg, and Na) are not directly extracted, they are firstly cycled through organic matter.” He cited minerality as an “invented term as a wine descriptor.”

And in any case, rocks have no flavour at all. Apparently, the “flavour” of stones is caused by an invisible substance called petrichor, which, according to Wikipedia, is “constructed from Greek petra (πέτρα), meaning “stone”, and īchōr (ἰχώρ), the fluid that flows in the veins of the Gods in Greek mythology.”

Whoa!

Petrichor

Derived from organic matter like oils from plants, petrichor floats through the air and comes to rest as a thin film over everything on the ground, including rocks. This coating then releases its flavours (vapours) only when a rain hits the ground; hence the smell of rain.

So, sadly, it looks as though the romantic in me is going to have to take a back seat; it seems I am not sucking from the rock’s core when I savour my Zorzal Malbec.

But if the perception of minerality doesn’t come from rocks, where does it come from?

Fermentation, probably. To rehash well documented findings, it may come from sulphides produced by yeasts as they work their magic in converting sugar into alcohol. If the yeasts are having a hard time finding enough nitrogen in the must, they may produce volatile sulphur compounds such as hydrogen sulphide and mercaptans (thiols), often called reduction and which can usually be the cause of rotten egg smell. But sometimes these compounds, such as ethyl mercaptans, can also give off flinty or struck-match aromas that can be quite mineral in character and seem to add complexity to a wine. It’s a thin line. Modern reductive winemaking techniques, like the use of closed top stainless steel fermentation tanks which limit the wine’s exposure to oxygen, can also encourage the release of these subtle sulphur compounds.

And then, of course, there is the other common form of sulphur: sulphur dioxide can affect taste perceptions of minerality. Their presence may ‘tweak’ the flavour profiles of wine in a more salty or bitter direction, creating a mineral effect.

Sam Harrop: “Complexed sulphides are one of the main aromatic indicators of minerality. Reductive handling at wine phase is vital to protecting mineral perception – both aromatically and texturally. Wines with mineral perception have a low pH, complex acid profile, complex sulphide aromas and necessary aromatic and textural balance to provide the x factor”

I suppose that one crumb of comfort for those looking to equate minerality with terroir may lie in the fact that if one of the reasons for the dodgy performance of the yeasts is because some vineyard sites are deficient in nutrients – so causing the yeasts to stress and produce these volatile sulphur compounds – at least it is the effect of the vineyard.

Explanation over, then.

And yet…

Whatever the reasons, it still seems odd to me that the use of minerality is so ubiquitous when it apparently didn’t even exist before about 1984.

Each week in our tasting room in beautiful downtown Luton, Bev, Steve and I attempt to delineate every new wine into just three words. We stock about 950 wines, and when we trawled through our database we found that we had used the word minerality in 49 of them – around 5%. These include seven red wines, one rose and 41 whites, all of which had been tasted in the last six months. Intrigued, we looked at this list, but couldn’t find a common theme. The surprise was the absence of Greek wines, which, given our focus on Greece and the character of its wines, gave us pause for thought – and gave Steve the hump. “I can’t believe we didn’t describe Gaia’s Thalassitis Assyrtiko as mineral.”

Gaia Wines, Santorini

So earlier this week we gave ourselves a couple of hours and went through a selection of a randomly chosen dozen of these wines. The results were surprising.

Whites

Australia – clos Clare Riesling, Watervale, Clare Valley, 2016

Jim: “This has an amazing nose.”

Steve: “Limey and a little phenolic.”

Result: definitely not mineral.

Austria – Johann Donabaum, Grüner Veltliner, ‘Johann’ Federspiel, Wachau, 2018

Steve: “This definitely smells of slate. This has to be a mineral wine.”

Bev: “It is not a vinous taste. It has a slightly ‘drying’ taste in the mouth.”

Result: still mineral.

Crete – Idaia, Vidiano, Dafnes, 2018

Jim: “Wow! What an astonishing nose! Mouth-watering, very complex, a touch of seaweed?”

Steve: “Chalky. This is what it would feel like if you put a lump of chalk into your mouth. This is limestone. The scientists say you cannot taste limestone, but you know what I mean.”

Bev: “It has a non-vinous finish, and so for me that is mineral.”

Result: still mineral, in fact even more so.

France – Gouffier, Rully 1er Cru ‘Rabourcé’, 2016

Jim: “Evolved, just a touch of controlled oxidation, gorgeous, but not mineral.”

Bev: “Apricots and tangerines. Opulent.”

Result: a long way from mineral.

France – Domaine de la Villaudière Sancerre 2018

None of us finds the slightest bit of minerality with this wine.

Steve: “Why doesn’t Sancerre taste like Sancerre any more – this is like an Hawaiian pizza.”

Bev: “This was closed when we first opened it. Now it is almost pineapple.”

Result: nowhere near mineral.

Italy – Feudi di San Gregorio, Fiano di Avellino, ‘Pietracalda’, Campania, 2017

Jim: “This is easily the most mineral. Mineral on the nose, mineral on the finish, perhaps fuller in the mouth.”

Bev: “Wet stone again.”

Result: still mineral.

Ancilla Lugana, ‘Ella’, Lombardy, 2018

Steve: “I don’t know why we would describe Lugana as a mineral. This definitely isn’t.”

Jim: “This is like charcoaled pineapple. A fantastic, vibrant and crisp wine, but not mineral.”

Result: not even close to mineral.

Reds

Argentina – Zorzal, Malbec ‘Eggo Tinto de Tiza’, Tupungato, 2017

A touch faecal when first opening, but within minutes this disappears.

Steve: “This is definitely a ‘natural’ wine. Alive and kicking!”

Bev: “Edgy.”

Jim: “This is my salt and caramel wine.”

Result: mineral, no question.

There were four others where we were unsure. So, of the twelve wines to which we originally assigned the descriptor mineral, only four would now definitely qualify for it. And four would not even come close.  A conundrum: while accepting that wine – of course – changes character as it lies in bottle, here we have three so-called experts, with 60 years of experience between them, conceding to fundamental variances in their use of minerality over a relatively (six months) short period of time. Are we just not good at writing tasting notes? Are we incompetent? After all, WSET students are discouraged from using the word mineral. Blimey!

With most (though not all) of the wines, we found that the fruit elements were now much more advanced than in our original tasting; revelatory so in some instances. Are we writing our tasting notes without giving the wine a chance to recover in the warehouse after reaching us? Or are we – as Bev has suggested elsewhere – just lazy? Using the word minerality as shorthand for something else? And even as I write this, landing on my desk is a note from a producer: “After a long and passionate work in our cellar, we are proud to introduce our new-born: a rich white wine, with notes of tropical fruit and a full body which is supported by great acidity and minerality.”

Well, what do our winemakers make of this?

Juampi Michelini (whose wines kindled this essay!) says: “Of course it is necessary to have mineral soils, especially if they are loaded with chalk. But it also has to do with earlier harvest times, something that has been done more and more throughout the world in the last seven years, as well as more reductive fermentations.

Juampi Michelini, Zorzal Wines

“I describe almost all of my Zorzal wines as being mineral wines – but I always say that minerality is more a sensation of textures than of aromas.”

In the appropriate setting of La Cambuse du Saunier, a bucolic oyster shack which borders a sea salt farm near his Narbonne winery, Gérard Bertrand paused. “Ah, minerality! So controversial. I make a link between minerality and salinity, and the salinity comes from limestone, and if you suck a limestone rock – that is minerality.” He put his index finger into his mouth. “You can feel the minerality in the middle of your tongue.

“You cannot make this during the vinification process. This comes from the rock. We do an experiment. We put Château la Sauvageonne in front of a piece of schist rock; we put Château l’Hospitalet in front of limestone, and we put Château de Villemajou in front of silex, and we ask people to taste the stones and then the wine. They all get the link.

“People need to suck stones.”

At the recent South African tasting held at Phonica Records in Soho’s Poland Street, I asked our award-winning winemaker, Samantha O’Keefe, who said: “It’s a sensation of cold in your mouth.” “Cold?” “Yes.” She laughed. “But I work in feelings and colours and so my tasting notes are often odd. But certainly my wines on stony vineyards give me more minerality than those from red shale soils, which are fuller and richer. I definitely do not think it is a flavour. It’s more just a feeling in your mouth. I think it might just be a way of differentiating from those sweeter, fuller types of New World wines which you often get. But I don’t know!”

She paused again. “Minerality is a texture. It’s a stony quality: wet pebbles. I use minerality a lot. But maybe I am being lazy.”

Lazy. There’s that word again.

It does seem as though some winemakers are anxious to maintain the link between minerality and their wines (as you’d expect!) But are we talking about terroir as opposed to minerality? Playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order?

Some key words: refreshing, zingy, acidity, a certain sourness, licked stones. A kind of austere or nerviness or tension; or simply the opposite to ripeness. Whenever I come across what I think is minerality, I pause: “Hello darkness, my old friend…”

But I’m still nowhere near working out what it actually is. Mind you, far better minds than mine have tried and failed; the Oxford Companion to Wine again: “it is not possible to determine whether minerality is a terroir or winemaking effect.”

And why does this bother me so? Why this sophistry in trying to describe something which isn’t there? A flavour – an essence – which may not exist? Am I bending my language to fit a need? What is the need? What is it about minerality? At what point does minerality trans into Fashion? “Sparkling or mineral sir?” Well mineral, obviously, because mineral is Brioni, sharp suited and therefore Continental. But sparkling is, well, gas, isn’t it, and a bit Wyoming. Minerality is cool, it is quartz and diamonds and vaguely Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Good evening, Commander Mineral, we’ve been expecting you,” white gloves ‘n all. Mineral is nuance. It is class, it is style, and hardly Biffo the Bear. “Indeed.” “Yes, indeed.” “Minerality, yes.” “Yes, indeed.” Opulence, move over, Vanilla step aside and all you other flavours tripping the not-so-light fantastic to the strains of the Fat Belly Boogie. Sodium and calcium and manganese are important and not flippant at all and their nexus endows us as professors in white lab coats, like those Cambridge chaps who discovered DNA in the pub. So when I say: “minerality!” am I a luvvy satisfying my inner core, my night primaeval, by licking from the core of the earth and sharing in a pagan rave with matter which is six hundred and fifty million years old? Is it my soul I search for? Aristotle’s tabula rasa? Core is a great word, it is a key word and if you prefix it with hard you get an awkward word, a dangerous word, a bit nihilistic, but who other than the hardcore would go the Paul Grieco’s Terroir tasting to drink wines from heavy-metal soils matched with heavy metal music? Do metal and core satisfy some kind of prehistoric desire to engage with the elements, to go deep, really deep, in to the earth because deep is good, deep is important and it is the opposite of shallow and who wants to be shallow? No, we’ll keep digging in a maelstrom of kinetic exuberance, knocking at the gates of perception, nosing the brimstone, surrendering to something so great no-one understands it (though it may be “the only true measure of greatness in wine”¹), digging like Heaney’s Old Man, right down into the “roiling, boiling, sulphurous, belching belly”² of the earth, seeking approbation and Dante’s felicity and Milton’s liberty to know, desiring good or desiring God, ingesting Plastic Soup, and not flopping into the chair to watch Corrie but rather romanticizing we are the Underworld Gods, Hecate and Hades, with petrichor running through our veins.

Minerality: is this the taste of what is not there?

Reading List

¹ Sam Harrop. Winemaking Intervention in Minerality Perception

² Alice Feiring. The Dirty Guide to Wine

Madeline Puckette, Wine Folly

Jamie Goode. Wine Science

Alex Maltman. Minerality in wine: a geological perspective

Dr Peter Dry. Terroir – It’s the Rocks That Matter

Oxford Companion to Wine

Wendy Parr, Alex Maltman, Sally Easton, Jordi Ballester. Minerality in Wine: Towards the Reality behind the Myths