jamie goode's wine blog: Terroir: one of the most interesting wine concepts

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Terroir: one of the most interesting wine concepts

I love the topic of terroir: the idea that the specific soils and local climate of a vineyard area can impart distinctive local character to the wines it produces.

I love the fact that it is still quite mysterious. We know that some sites are very special, and are capable of making great wines, yet we don't know exactly why, despite extensive scientific investigation.

I've been re-reading James Wilson's book on Terroir (Mitchell Beazley), but as much as I find his descriptions of the geology of the various French wine regions interesting, I'm frustrated by his inability to link specific soil types to wine flavours.

I have my own theories - but that's all they are. On one level, it's just a wonderful mystery that the partnership of specific sites and grape varieties yields great wines in ways we can't predict, and that there aren't that many places on earth that are capable of this. On another level, I'd love it if we could find ways of prospecting new 'great' vineyard sites more accurately, and of making great wines more available and affordable.

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At 1:09 AM, Blogger Glen said...

Perhaps it's not possible to determine particular flavors but what about the style of wine. Is it possible to state what wine styles can be made well based on the terroir?

At 1:51 AM, Anonymous Mark said...

I think that is one thing wineries struggle with, especially in places like Temecula in Southern California. They get so many tourists from LA and SD on the weekend that just want to get drunk that they don't necessarily need to produce the best wine possible.

Interesting read!

At 7:38 AM, Anonymous Laurence Veale said...

Hi Jamie,

I get the whole "physical" impact of geography and soil.

Yet, there is still a "mystique".

I remember a winemaker from Sancerre striking two pieces of flinty rock together to release a flinty, burnt match flavour which he said you can taste in his wine (which you could), but in my undergraduate botany experience, I can't attribute this transfer of flavours to any process in the plants - any thoughts on these kind of claims?


At 11:02 AM, Blogger Vicky Wine said...

Yes, soil differences are really stricking and truly affects the wine. In Beaujolais each cru has its soilparticularity and I would say that even in one cru or one land you can already see a difference. If I look at our soil in Fleurie, I see in 500 meters lenght of vine, a difference in the soil and so in the tree and in the quality of the juice. This is a quite unique thing to experiment.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Glen - goo point - I think some terroirs (certainly where climate is included) suit certain styles better. And where the climate is the same, some soils might suit one variety over another.

Lar, I reckon it might be a happy coincidence - struck flint and burnt match are two classic descriptors of reduction, caused by volatile sulfur compounds.

Vicky, thanks for that practical example.

At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Arthur said...

"terroir" is vastly multifactorial, and goes far beyond geology and soil chemistry - perhaps that is why it is so hard to pin it down. I also think it's quite possible for terroirs of sites in various parts of the world to be similar if not nearly identical.

At 7:44 PM, Blogger ned said...

Terroir is certainly real. Explaining it, quantifying it, defining it, goes right down the molecular level.

For wine, does terroir end at the point of harvest?
Does it continue into the cellar?
To what extent is it possible to separate human effects
from natures?

I actually think that in some places, effects of soil dominate, in others, effects of sun and and climate do.

At 2:59 AM, Anonymous Arthur said...

ned, I certainly think you have a point about terroir extending into the cellar. Wines from regions where Brett is endemic in the cellar are one case in point. Deliberate or inadvertent cellar causes are also candidates for cellar-related terroir hallmarks - burnt rubber in South African reds is one thing that comes to mind as an example.


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