Vino 101: What the heck is terroir? #wine

30 Jan

You’ve probably heard the word “terroir” a few times during your wine tasting adventures. Maybe the person who was pouring raved about the terroir of a vineyard. Or maybe the dork at the next table was inflicting his long-suffering friends with yet another monologue about tasting the terroir of a certain wine.

Well, “terroir” is a controversial subject, even among wine experts. Simply stated, terroir gives  wine its sense of place. It’s like going to a party and spotting a chulo guy or hot muchacha who have–cliché alert–a certain je ne sais quoi. The cut of their clothes or the way they carry themselves are  little clues  that tell you the person may be from a different town, another state, or even another country.

Old World wines come from Europe and the Mediterranean.

And so it is with wine. Little clues like color, aroma, flavor characteristics and texture will tell you something about the origins of a particular vino. Terroir is the source of these clues.  

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To Spanish speakers, terroir may sound a lot like tierra, or dirt. That’s because our très chic French amigos originally coined the term, which comes from terre, the French word for earth or dirt. Soil was once given most of the credit for influencing a wine’s profile. Today, terroir can be defined as the combination of soil, climate, weather, topography (aspect, elevation, slope, proximity to bodies of water) and grape variety that define a particular vineyard.

Photo credit: Wines of British Columbia

Photo credit: Wines of British Columbia

But dónde está el controversy, you ask? Not everyone agrees on the extent to which terroir can be credited for giving wine a particular personality. Modern winemaking gives the winemaker a lot more tools to influence the taste and aromatic profile of wine.

For example, a winemaker in California can craft a Bordeaux blend wine that will display characteristics similar to a wine made in Bordeaux, France.  But California and France are–obviously–two very different places. How do they do it? Everything from how the grape vines are tended to the inclusion of oak and the type of yeast used for fermentation will influence the end product.

Photo courtesy of Liza Gershman Photography.

Photo courtesy of Liza Gershman Photography.

I could go on and on about terroir, but you have places to go, people to see and vino to drink. All you need to remember about terroir is that it plays a key role in producing wine that will have a unique identity depending on where the grapes were grown. Kind of like the attractive stranger at the party. He or she may share some traits with the locals, but it’s the edgy scarf, adorable accent or exotic dance moves that hook you. Oh là là!

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2 Responses to “Vino 101: What the heck is terroir? #wine”

  1. senelslant January 30, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    I like it! “It’s like going to a party and spotting a chulo guy or hot muchacha who have–cliché alert–a certain je ne sais quoi.” Well put!

    It’s that certain “somewhereness” to steal the definition from Jamie Goode.

    • Pamela January 30, 2014 at 9:17 am #

      Gracias, Senelslant! Just read your post on terroir – a beautiful and touching piece. Wine truly is the catalyst for some of life’s most defining moments. Cheers/Salud!

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