Wine professionals are lately debating the word minerality, commonly used to describe a particular flavor in wine. Is it a real flavor derived from the mineral content of the soil? The science says “no,” at least the existing science. Is it even a real word? The dictionary says “not.” So is it just another obtuse descriptor that attempts to isolate a flavor, which may or may not exist? Who even knows how minerals taste?
One thing is clear. We all recognize not only the word but also the flavor it describes when we taste it in a glass. Interestingly, a recent lab analysis of wines that tasters described as exhibiting minerality shared particular chemical compounds. But the source of these compounds is a mystery. At least we know that minerality is an objectively real flavor although it may have nothing to do with the actual minerals that the vine could be leaching from the soil.
Similarly, the aroma of freshly cut grass associated with some Sauvignon Blanc is unmistakable but has nothing to do with grass. Instead, the flavor is the result of trellising the vines in a certain way that produces more pyrazines, which then render that grassy flavor.
In my experience, minerality is also associated with acidity. The higher the acid content in a wine, the more likely that we will taste something that we can call minerality, but not always. Many crisp whites tend toward fruit, flowers, or almonds instead of the stony sensation that we associate with minerality. Reds can obviously exhibit stony mineral flavors, too.
While it may be a good idea that wine professionals talk about wine in a more accessible and precise way, they need not argue about whether minerality is a legitimate descriptor if it clearly describes a flavor that we recognize even though minerals are probably not the source of that flavor.
The term is also important because it may have a negative connotation for certain people, who would prefer to avoid such wines in favor of those with fruity flavors.
If the discussion seems ridiculous, you may be right. The primarily important aspects of wine are always going to be flavor, acid, and tannin texture, and how they are balanced together in a given win. All three are worthy of focused attention if we want to understand wine and determine what we like, which can then guide our purchases more efficiently.