The term ‘flinty’ may not be terribly familiar to the average wine drinker. An uncommon terroir profile note found in many white wines has significant contributions, although imbibers may have a hard time describing it outside of the usual fruit aromas.
“Flint is found in dry, crisp, acidic white wines and has a minerally taste impression,” says Stu Woodward, wine manager of Mystic Wine Shoppe in Arlington, Massachusetts. “The aroma would be like striking a flint (match) against hard metal.”
France’s Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are excellent varietal examples that showcase the Loire’s signature flinty terroir. The region’s stony soil is the result of millions of years of erosion that have brought about the varied soil characteristics that comprise the Loire Valley landscape.
Gilles Tamagnan, founder and winemaker of Domaine des Pierrettes in Touraine, France, agrees that flint soils bring a positive character to his wines.
“Although the term ‘minerality’ is a very broad profile note amongst white wines, our particular terroir helps varieties like Sauvignon Blanc develop Pierre à fusil type flavors (gun flint),” says Tamagnan. “We can literally taste the flint stone!”
In Touraine, flint stones are associated with clay, which bring a soft and silky texture to white wines. These stones have hard, reflective surfaces that can retain heat from the sun during the day and give it back to the vines at night. This process promotes a steady, even ripening. The silex (another name for flint stones) gives an incomparable mineral expression and righteousness to the wines, as well as spiciness in older vintages.
Wines grown from flinty soils can be marvelous with food, as many of them are medium bodied with high acidity. Lighter fish dishes like shellfish and oysters are obvious. But these wines are no one trick pony. They can take on cuisines with creamy and buttery sauces, as well as heavier meats like veal, pork, turkey and chicken. They’re also perfect to drink by themselves sans food.
“Sauvignon Blancs are wonderfully expressive and balanced, displaying citrus flavors with a hint of acidity as well as very present smoky flint aromas,” says Tamagnan. “For us, all is in the name ‘Domaine des Pierrettes,’ which means ‘little stones’ in French. Here, the Sauvignon Blanc, aka the King of the Valley, is without a doubt the variety showcasing the most of our flinty soil.”