Terroir is a strange word, used to refer to a wine that evokes a ‘sense of place’.
Personally, I like to think of it as just another form of branding. If I told you to think of Hawaii, you may imagine a tropical beach with palm trees. If I mentioned Ukraine, it may be a forbidding winter and fur hats. The fact that you haven’t been there is not relevant – an idea of the place is already in your mind and all you require is the right stimulus to bring it to the forefront.
Terroir is similar, but instead of words the stimulus comes in the form of tastes and aromas.
Breath in deeply, sip slowly, and you will find yourself transported to another place…
Terroir is mentioned in mysterious tones, but it doesn’t have to remain a mystery. The following is my personal breakdown of elements that I believe constitute terroir:
A ‘sense of place’ must come from the land, specifically the soil in which the vines are grown. Vines that will thrive in one kind of soil may struggle or even die in another environment, so such limitations have made it so vines consistently produce a certain quality of fruit depending on where they are planted. A Chardonnay vine grown in one area will behave differently to one growing just a few meters away, simply because the soil types are markedly different. This is one factor behind why neighbouring Domaines in Burgundy command very different prices.
The elemental make up of soils is important as well, and as I was writing my book I was researching which ones had more silicon, iron, calcium… but an in-depth understanding isn’t necessary, just a peripheral awareness is enough.
For example, a classically bad pairing is red wine with fish, however research suggests that it is the iron content in wine that causes a chemical reaction with the fish to cause a bad taste. One can then conclude that wines grown in iron-rich soils should not be paired with fish.
Some areas are more prone to high rainfall, others are arid and dry. Different parts of the world will receive different amounts of sunlight, and vines must survive within the narrow zone between too-hot and too-cold. The more light and warmth a vine receives, the riper the fruit, and vice versa.
See – The Story Of The Vine
The people who cultivate the vines and the culture that they have developed will have a marked impact on the style of the wine. How else could Valpolicella, a cool-climate region that slows ripening, create as full-bodied a wine as Amarone? Only with special techniques passed down across generations can such wines be made.
Putting It All Together
With so many variables you can see how there can be so many different expressions of terroir. Good winemaking should technically be focussed on making these elements as evident as possible, being unique and true to their individuality. Too much intervention and this can become lost – a wine may still be technically well made, but it will seem homogeneous and mass-produced.
Once you become aware of all of the above, you can become closer to doing this:
Read more: 5 Reasons To Have Wine On A Date