Terroir. Here’s that mysterious wine term that’s almost as tricky to define as it is to pronounce—especially after a glass or two of wine. (Hint: Just say “tehr-wahr” confidently and keep right on talking.)
Meanwhile, you’ll find that terroir, that sense of place—is one of the most debated topics in the world of wine. In a nutshell, it means a wine smells and tastes of where it was made. Maybe akin to pouring an address into a glass?
Many experts say terroir is based in the physical science aspects of making wine. Others believe there’s an intangible aspect to it—that the culture of the vineyard makes its way into the bottle. But how the term began is on common ground.
Over the centuries, French winemakers defined the concept as they studied the differences in wines from their different regions, vineyards or even from within the same vineyard. They found that wines were an expression of their unique terroir, the particular parcel of earth where they were made. The term comes from terre, the French word for earth. The scrutiny eventually resulted in classification systems that are still in use today—and the concept spread throughout the winemaking world.
If terroir begins first and foremost with the earth that the vines grow in, it doesn’t end there. It also takes into account the factors that affect that soil. This includes climate, elevation, exposure, slope of the vineyard, drainage—you get the picture. A Burgundy from the Cote de Nuits is going to taste differently than a Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. And a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa won’t be mistaken for one from New Zealand’s Marlborough. Same grapes, different expressions. It’s all about what makes up that unique “somewhere” where the wine was made. These days, you’ll even find the concept referring to other artisanal crops like cheese, coffee, tea and chocolate.
Terroir is one of things we love about a good wine. Its expression has the ability to take us somewhere…to there. And then it brings its somewhere back…to here. To our glass and to our tables. That’s pretty mysterious in a good kind of way. And that’s what we’re talking about!