So what should terroir taste like?
In my talk on authentic wine yesterday, I had an informed and interested audience who asked some tough questions.
I was talking quite a bit about terroir. My argument is that wine is interesting because of its diversity, and the fact that this diversity is largely driven by the fact that grapes grown in different places make wines that taste different. Local tastes; terroir.
I argue that working more naturally in the vineyard and cellar helps express the sense of place in the wine, and that if you intervene too much, or not enough, then you can lose that sense of place.
So I’m a firm believer in terroir.
But what, exactly, does this terroir taste of? That’s a really good question.
Is it meaningless to talk about sense of place, if – as the film wine from here attempts – you gather a series of experts in a room, present them with a range of wines, and they can’t tell you where they are from?
If, say, I present you with a range of Pinot Noirs from New Zealand, could you reliably spot the region, let alone the vineyard? Some people could, but not all that many. And when it comes to Burgundy, can you taste a line-up of 20 premier and grand cru wines and tell me which vineyard each comes from?
These are important questions. But even if the answer is ‘no’, I don’t think it’s fatal to my argument.
I think that terroir expression is about a partnership between the grower and the vineyard. It is the job of the grower to listen to her or his site, and interpret that site in the wine, allowing it to speak.
For this reason, I think there can be several legitimate expressions of a site. You can have wines with different flavours, all of which have a sense of place. We are venturing into slightly subjective territory here, because who is to say that a particular wine is a legitimate expression of where it has come from?
Of course, there are vintage differences too. The same site is expressed differently in different years, even though the winegrower works in the same way. Does this local taste carry through very different vintage conditions? Can it be lost in some years? Perhaps.
I think many of us, however, would agree that faulty wines, or wines that are over-ripe and brim-full of new oak are not authentic terroir wines. And, controversially, I’d argue that some sites aren’t good enough to have legitimate terroir expressions – that they are simply incapable of making authentic, interesting wines with a sense of place.
What does terroir taste like? It’s a really interesting question.