One of the things that seems to make the topic of wine mysterious to people is the unique terminology associated with it. Phrases such as ‘oaky finish’ or ‘high tannins’ can create confusion and even anxiety to those unfamilar with them. What does oak taste like?? I mean, nobody wants to look stupid at a wine tasting but the “I’m more knowledgeable than you” attitude seems to permeate through the wine culture. In my ongoing quest to make wine more mainstream, I decided to introduce ‘Wine Term of the Week’ which will hopefully help break it down for you great folks who decided to stop by my little space on the web here.
As I talk to more and more people in the industry, particularly winery owners, the term ‘Terroir’ often comes up. I know that when I first heard it I wondered what the hell the person was talking about. When I looked it up I interpreted terroir to mean the soil that the grapes are grown on, but it goes a bit further than that.
Terroir is a French term that loosely translates to ‘land’, though there isn’t a specific English translation. Many wine producers feel that the characteristics of the crop are determined not only by the variety of grape and the farming techniques, but by other more localized factors (i.e. ‘Terroir’). This might include the soil, climate, part of the country, how long the vines have been planted, the specific way the sun hits these particular vines, etc.
A wine’s grapes take on the traits of where it is harvested. A grape grown on a vineyard in the south of France will more than likely produce better grapes than say Scottsdale, Arizona. But all other factors being equal, the concept that one farm produces better grapes than another is a controversial topic among winemakers. The term terroir creates an air of mysteriousness about where the grapes come to life but I’m unsure how much weight that holds in reality. I came across the following quote which sums it up best:
“If you want to start an argument in the wine world – and believe me, it’s not hard to do – all you have to do is mention the word terroir.” — Eric Asimov