Everything we say about a wine is metaphorical. The sensations we apprehend are infinite but language isn’t, so under the assumption that the sensations only become real when they are shared, we squeeze the actual experience into classifications that at best merely suggest.

I’m always brought up short when I try to convey to someone an aspect of a wine by using analogies – pear, anise, pencil, cherry, mint, whatever – and my collocutor assumes that the flavor can only be present in the wine if some concentrate of that flavor was literally added to it during production. “It does taste like pear…wait, you mean they don’t add pear to it?”

They don’t. This is the magic of wine, how vitis vinifera grapes are unique alchemists of elements in their environment. On a plot of soil covering layers of rock grows a plant that receives nutrients from the light above, the water in that soil, the soil itself. It is the distinct chemical compounds embedded in these elements that yield distinctions in wine. The soil, the water and the compounds are different in different locations on the globe. That’s wine.

It is not the name of the grape but the spot on the globe which leads. For pinot noir in California’s Russian River Valley to taste like pinot noir from Burgundy’s Gevrey-Chambertin, so much chemical and physical manipulation of the crushed grapes’ juice would have to occur that the end product would be a DARPA-level science project, not a wine. You don’t like pinot noir; you like certain selections of that grape, as interpreted by various permutations of the planetary elements and the choices made by that particular grape selection’s human stewards.

There are some flavors in the fruit itself, but these are mostly static and occupy a quite limited spectrum. Most flavor in wine comes from the soil in which it grows. Soil is crushed and transformed rock. When we speak of “minerality” in wine, we are using a broad term but it is in fact the most accurate, the least metaphorical. We are stating that we are experiencing a moment of clarity concerning a particular wine’s true origins.

Perhaps this is why all the wines that have stirred me of late are especially mineral in their presentation. They offer a directness, a lucidity, a unity of purpose and rejection of the superfluous that are inspiringly rejuvenating.

Drinking them, one feels snapped out of a stupor. Up against the true grain of the thing. Many great wines play out as dramas, grand stories, but these wines are composed instead as haiku: the thing itself.

The haiku analogy is apt, because that form attempts to render the most complicated experiences in the most purified language. The vocabulary for wines where the acidity and fruit lead comes relatively easily, because we all share the taste experiences of many fruits. We can mention a fruit taste and have others recognize what we’re talking about. But we don’t, as a habit, go around licking stones and charcoal, so our bank of minerality terms is impoverished.

Therefore, forgive the lack of specificity with regard to the following list of mineral white wines (there are mineral pink wines and mineral reds, but those usually have other, somewhat distracting, elements concurrently at play, so for now we’ll focus on whites). Just try one or more of them, and be brought immediately into the realm of immediacy. If enough of us do this together, we’ll have created a common set of experiences, and we’ll have generated a common language without uttering a single word.

Ravines Dry Riesling 2013, ($18, Crush) is textbook mineral. If anyone doubted a wine from Riesling could avoid sweetness of any sort, drink this beauty. Intensely salty and lime-pithy, it’s just the limestone and shale of its steep-slope homeland in the Finger Lakes region of New York, in liquid form.

Clos Lapeyre Jurançon Sec 2012 ($18, Devenish) is, like Vouvray and Riesling, from one of the few wine categories which can thrillingly produce beautiful wines across the sweetness spectrum. This Jurançon (the region lies at the base of France’s Pyrenees mountains) is fully dry, brittle even, but its body is simply enormous. It’s an angular wine, like the Ravines, but the angles belong to a dodecahedron rather than a diamond; the space it occupies is cavernous. Like many of these wines, it has enough structure to accompany red meat.

The wines of Elena Walch, an exceptional female-run producer from Italy’s Alto Adige region, are for the first time available in Maine, distributed by SoPo. Walch’s Lagrein ($16) is an exceptionally mineral, peppery, syrah-like expression of the area’s foremost indigenous red wine grape. Her Pinot Bianco ($15) and Pinot Grigio ($16), varietals that usually take the soft and fruity way out the side door, will entirely rearrange your assumptions of what those grapes can do. Mostly from high vineyards rich in chalk, they are intense, smoky, potent. Anyone who was initially drawn to pinot grigio for the fun factor but lost interest at some point will thrill at these tense, exacting poems.

Another duo to upset expectations and set dry-white-wine hearts a-soaring are the Charles Smith Vino Pinot Grigio 2011 ($13, SoPo) and Eve Chardonnay ($13). The Washington wizard Charles Smith is best known for his House Wine brand (since sold), as well as the Kung Fu Girl Riesling and a variety of rosé projects. He’s a character and the marketing can sometimes threaten to outrun the wines themselves, but the wines are undeniably real (hand-harvested grapes, vinified only with native yeast, and – yes – crushed by foot) and irresistibly good. The PG is a lean, ravenous salted-lime butt-kicker with an uncompromising mineral bent. The Chardonnay is fatter in its middle, but still just so clean and dialed-in.

All of these mineral wines are about salt, smoke, and lime. Not much in the way of flowers, and any fruit has been consumed, digested and forgotten. These general traits make them tremendously flexible at the table (how many foods are not improved by salt, smoke, or lime?), and a bracing vernal smack of a wake-up after our prolonged hibernal slumber.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

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