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Summer in a Stone: Minerality and Benziger Sauvignon Blanc

Can you taste the mineral notes in a Benziger Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma Mountain?

There’s more to minerality than chewing on rocks — it’s also a wine descriptor that appears on the back label of Benziger Winery’s Biodynamically grown, estate 2017 Paradiso de Maria Sonoma Mountain Sauvignon Blanc.

Minerality is among the newer and more controversial terms, as explained recently by Deborah Parker Wong (global wine editor for The SOMM Journal and a wine instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College) at a seminar hosted by the wine lab Enartis.

Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma County, California

Parker Wong said that while the term minerality began to appear in the 1980s and is used often by people in the industry, it’s still a descriptor non grata among some influential tasting panels and magazines, where it’s “rarely and judiciously used,” or even “avoided at all costs.”

She contrasted the frequency with which she found, through first-hand research, the word “mineral” appearing on the back label or even brand names of wines from Europe with very few examples stateside. The reason minerality is important to winemakers is that consumers will pay more for a wine when they know a little more about the term and appreciate the aromatic nuances.

Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma County, California

In Sonoma County, Enartis is based in Windsor, but the wine lab provides services worldwide to the industry. Their seminars delve into topics beyond the average wine geeky — for example, Dr. Antonio Tomas Palacios Garcia, from the University of Rioja, after discussing positive and negative charges of particles and olfactory receptors (or something like that!) presented the results of triangulated tests from groups given samples of wine spiked with “minerality” compounds common in some wines, like benzene methane thiol (which sounds like something you can run your car on, with a conversion kit).

Basically, it boils down to this: no, minerality is not a direct taste of certain kinds of stones, but yes, it may reflect the terroir by indirect pathways, like favoring the precursors of certain compounds that, expressed through winemaking techniques, are experienced as minerality.

Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma County, California

OK, class is out for summer! Enjoy a stimulating sip of Benziger 2017 Paradiso de Maria Sonoma Mountain Sauvignon Blanc ($36). This wine’s aroma is all about subtle scents of citrus blossom, white grapefruit and, yes, mineral notes of crushed stone.

Pyrazines add a little “stemmy” quality, but this is not a boldly grassy Savvy like classic New Zealand wines, nor is it soft and fruity like many expect from a California SB. It’s racy and refined all the way to the lingering finish, with crystalline acidity.

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