If you are like most people, it’s hard to wrap your head around the concept of “mineral” in a wine. Most of us do not go around eating stones, or even smelling them. Yet tasting note after tasting note in all the glossy wine magazines refer to aromas of “wet stone” or “chalk” or “minerals.” What does it all mean, and where does it come from?
Right now I am sipping Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc, 2007, from Marlborough New Zealand. You’ve probably had a NZ wine before and perhaps can even identify that grapefruit-intense, bright style in a line-up of Sauvignon Blanc wines from around the world. Yet in reading about this winery, it appears Stoneleigh was so named because of the sunstones in the vineyards.
Typically, when stones are present, a few things happen. First, it forces the roots of the vines to dig deep — actually very deep — into the soil to tap into water and nutrients. This possibly contributes to the mineral-rich aroma and palate since the roots are so far below the surface. Another benefit of a soil filled with sunstones (apart from the groovy, New Age image with its associations with ecology) is that the stones capture the sun’s heat during the day, and that heat keeps the vines warm at night.
According to winemaker Jamie Marfell, the unique flavors in this wine (think fat, lush passion fruit with a squirt of refreshing pink grapefruit) are a result of both the stony free draining alluvial (riverbed) soils and slightly warmer climate of the Rapaura area. Indeed, when compared to its cooler climate NZ cousins, the wine seems softer, plumper, and with the kind of generous body that pairs well with a wide variety of food, especially first courses or luncheon dishes such as salads, seafood such as mussels, dressed crab, sautéed scallops, and brunch dishes such as quiche.