Wine Minerality and Stainless Steel

Leading oenologist for the Consorzio di Tutela del Soave, Giovanni Ponchia, ruffled a few feathers at the International Volcanic Wines Forum in Veneto when he chastised the industries over-use of the term ‘minerality.’ Ponchia, who hates the word and descriptors like it, says that he will “surely use [it] only for white wines without the influence of oak barrels.”

Why does Ponchia believe that minerality is only relevant and applicable to white wines matured in stainless steel? Because white wine’s flavors aren’t influenced by tannins, so it is understandably more difficult to describe the flavor with more specificity. When people describe red wines as having a mineral taste, they could probably hone in further to describe the flavor or, as Ponchia often believes, these people would just be wrong. The tannins and alcohol content of red wines, he says, make ‘minerality’ near impossible to perceive. In white wines, however, the effects of the soil and terroir are prominent and readily perceived. This goes double if their flavor has not been altered by an oak barrel.

“What you have in stainless steel from the beginning to the end of the winemaking process is something that is linked strictly to the soil, to the terroir,” says Ponchia, “so there are no effects of the pyrogallic acid content in the oak barrels.”

The supposed ‘minerality’ of wine has always been present in white wine, but with the increase of winemakers maturing their wines in stainless steel barrels it has become more obvious. The purity of the wine, the controlled environment in which it was aged, highlights what people perceive as minerality. And because of white wines relatively simple composition compared to red, and the increased popularity of stainless steel in white wine production, minerality has grown as a ‘hot-button’ concept in winemaking today. Though, if you subscribe to Ponchia’s opinion, it is an unwarranted and misused concept.