The Surprising, Saline Whites of the Mâconnais

I was initially struck by the salinity of the Chagnoleau, a wine that was lean in texture compared with the other two bottles, and with earthy, floral and herbal flavors underscored by that salty quality.

The salinity was there as well, though to a lesser extent, in the Merlin, which was both richer and more straightforward than the Chagnoleau, with savory citrus and floral flavors. And it was present in the succulent, beautifully textured Les Crays from the Bret Brothers, with its stony flavors of citrus and melon.

Most wine writers who have used the term would say it’s a more precise extension of the vaguer and much-debated quality “minerality,” a word that is often seen as controversial.

Why? Because people either interpret it literally, as if minerals were sucked up from rocks and soil by the roots of a vine and deposited directly into the glass. Or they believe it is not a specific enough, wanting instead a more precise analogy, like seashells, slate or pavement after a rain.

I happen to prefer general rather than precise descriptions for a wine. Unspecific terms like savory, fruity and mineral get at a wine’s overall character. Overly specific descriptions, like this one I read recently of a Chilean syrah, can seem poetic but are more meaningful to the writer as a device for jogging the memory than in communicating the nature of a wine to others:

“The taste is simply packed with blackberry and Santa Rosa plum fruit, but the bitter-edged brilliance of springtime wood sap hurtles through this heady fruit, trailing after it a summer scent like warm creosote, a hint of talcum powder and a brush of coal dust from a collier’s apron.”

These are mostly not references that are meaningful to me. But saline? That could be useful to anybody familiar with salt.

As to the source of this characteristic, the only thing that appears clear, as a recent article on salinity in wine pointed out, is that merely measuring the amount of salts in a wine — easy to do in a laboratory — does not necessarily correlate with how that wine is perceived by drinkers.

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