So is Vineyard Geology Important for Wine Taste?
We have seen in previous chapters how grapevines interact with rocks and soils, and in Chapter 10 I discussed the role of geology in terroir. But a question remains, one that is probably uppermost in the mind of many a wine lover: to what extent does geology affect the taste of the wine in your glass? I argued in Chapter 9 that the perception of a mineral taste in wine can’t have a literal meaning, but what about other tastes ascribed to geology? We might reasonably expect that the geological influences on vine growth have at least some role in wine flavor, but what? Many populist wine writings imply that the answers to such questions are clear-cut, but unfortunately they aren’t. Claims are routinely made in wine descriptions that sound fine but that don’t easily tally with scientific understanding. In other words, there’s some divergence between popular beliefs and scientific understanding of the geology–wine flavor connection. Part of the explanation may be that many of the populist assertions seem to be based on custom and on anecdote–narratives passed on enthusiastically but unquestioningly between wine fans. Two situations are common. First, a description of a wine casually mentions the kind of geology where it originated, implying a significance but without any justification or indication of how it might come about. I give illustrations of this in the following section. Second, some character of a wine is ascribed to particular rocks and soils but without providing any rationale. For example, a Riesling from Kamptal’s Gaisberg vineyard (Austria) is said to have “complexity because of the slaty para-gneiss, amphibolite, and mica” soils. But there’s no indication of how these two very specific rock types together with this particular mineral bring this complexity about.
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