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   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 61, March 2008   
The Charm of TerroirThe Charm of Terroir  Contents 
Issue 60, February 2008 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 62, April 2008

The Charm of Terroir


 Terroir: under this name are concealed not only unique and specific qualities of a wine but, undoubtedly, also huge commercial interests, a factor which is frequently used for speculation instead of praising the real quality of what can be found in a bottle. Let's make things clear in order not to raise any misunderstanding: terroir is important, indeed, very important and it can make a difference in any wine. Is terroir enough to make a quality wine? Facts tell the answer can be either positive or negative. How many times a wine is mainly commercialized just to take advantage of the good name of the area in which it was produced, without paying any attention - if not superficially - to the real quality of what was bottled? Nevertheless, if we want to be superficial in this consideration, all the wines of a specific area benefit, in general terms, of the same terroir, therefore also the result should express, still in general terms, the same quality, or at least, a pretty similar quality. Facts show things are not like that all the times.


 

 What is terroir? When it is referred to wine, the answer is pretty complex, whereas the same term used for other purposes, such as coffee or tea, it has a relatively simple meaning. When you see it written or listen to someone pronouncing it, the term clearly shows its French origins, a country in which it is undoubtedly produced excellent wine and that from the concept of terroir - as well as from other factors - has been built a wine empire. An empire based also on facts, no doubts about this, not on terroir only. According to many, giving an exact explanation of terroir referred to the world of wine, is a hard work, that is - once again, according to many - this term encloses so many meanings and it cannot be fully explained. Translated into literal terms, terroir means soil, however French people give this term a wider meaning, not necessarily associated to “soil” only.

 Referred to the world of wine, terroir has a pretty complex meaning, a number of many factors and absolutely typical of a pretty small territory - most of the times a single vineyard - as to give wines unique characteristics. This is certainly true: two wines produced with the same grape, even by the same producer, but coming from different vineyards, are undeniably different. In this sense, French are absolutely right in recognizing and supporting the differences among wines according to the area of origin, not only according to grapes: concepts like cru and terroir have a very important meaning in wine making. After all, if it is true a grape can be “moved” and cultivated in any place, the specific characteristics of a place are always unique and not replicable elsewhere. There could be “similar” conditions, but in any case they will never be perfectly the same.

 The concept of terroir includes the definition of many factors, generally the conditions created according to climate, morphology of the soil, altitude and exposition, geologic characteristics of the soil and mineral and organic elements which make it, drainage of water, population of “indigenous” yeasts typical of the area and, last but not the least, practices and wine making culture used in production. Of these elements, only wine making practices are “exportable” to other places, that is the experience and how man uses these factors, all the other elements cannot be exactly replicated elsewhere. In other words, as to mention the “well common” comparisons, Champagne can exist in Champagne only, Franciacorta can exist in Franciacorta only. Telling which of the two is better - a consideration which is always and however subjective and relative - makes no sense: each one of them is the expression of its own terroir, despite the fact they can be sometimes made with the same grapes.

 All these factors given to every place by the benevolence of Mother Nature, inevitably end to be altered or, better to say, “interpreted” by the work of man, most of the times exalting the unique qualities of every terroir, while sometimes destroying the advantage offered by this unique treasure. As wine “is not made by itself” and needs not only favorable environmental conditions but also the intervention of man, this last factor makes, most of the times, a remarkable difference. In other words, in case one has a high quality grape and an exceptional terroir, it does not mean the wine will be of high quality as well. In case the intervention of man is so deplorable as to destroy these conditions in the cellar, of course the result will not be so good. On the other hand, from a mediocre terroir can be made a wine having the same mediocrity in case the intervention of man is scrupulous, a very bad wine in all the other cases. The intervention of man can also affect terroir in other ways, such as in case are being used yeasts selected in a laboratory instead of the indigenous ones usually found in a place: the characteristics of wine will be different.

 Once again, although this can be a concept many will not like, the real quality of a wine is strongly affected by the work of man who - in the most lucky cases - can have favorable environmental conditions, and which certainly contribute to the result, whereas in other cases will be used in a deprecable ways with disputable results. This also explains the reason why not all the wines belonging to the same appellation - that is wines coming from relatively homogeneous and similar terroirs - as they are poured in a glass seem to be not only different, but also distant. The way with which terroir is being used is therefore fundamental and, in this sense, the intervention of man can make a difference. Without denying the importance of a good terroir, the quality of wine is a characteristic frequently associated to the “human factor”, a precise and wanted productive choice having in terroir one of the most important elements. The charm of terroir in a wine can frequently make a difference, also for purely “psychological” reasons, but sometimes - after having tasted what was poured in a glass - one would like to ask himself or herself how much a producer truly understood about his or her terroir!

 




   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 61, March 2008   
The Charm of TerroirThe Charm of Terroir  Contents 
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