The other day someone asked me what the most important aspect of a bottle of wine is to me; Aside from whether it simply tastes good or not, I’ve got a fairly concrete answer. My wine education has been grounded around geography. It’s an idea that sheds an enormous amount of light on the world of wine.
The funny thing about wine is that a limitless number of factors come together to make each particular bottle unique. The actual techniques, the degree of time and care invested in a wine’s production are of course really important. Inevitably though, it all boils down to the soil and the place where the vines are grown.
Terroir is a bit of a blanket term used extensively in the wine world, and it involves a huge variety of factors. It doesn’t simply encompass the composition of the soil, but the latitude, the temperature, rainfall, elevation and slope, the orientation of the vineyard towards the sun, the proximity to mountains or large bodies of water… It’s a lot to remember, and it’s much more easily summed up in one word; Terroir means place or environment.
It wasn’t really a concept I fully understood until I set foot in a vineyard. There is something absolutely magical about seeing the birthplace of a good wine. It’s like discovering the other half of the bottle. You’ve had a chance to taste it and to enjoy it, now you get to see where it came from and what made it what it is. It’s easy to consider wine as just another alcoholic beverage, but what truly sets wine aside from everything else is the sense of place that it derives its uniqueness from.
Every location contributes its own specific characteristics to a wine, and every winemaker puts their own “stamp” on it. It’s one of the things that make me so passionate about discovering more and more. Wine certainly has an intellectual side. When you have a glass of good wine you are able to explore new places and discover new things. It’s not just a pleasant feeling. When I open a bottle, I’m thinking about the place it came from- how does this Burgundy compare to that Napa? How does this vineyard compare to the next? When we think about wine tasting basics, ultimately it’s about what you think tastes good and what you think doesn’t. You don’t need to be a “wine connoisseur” to know what you like, but learning about terroir comes in handy as a way to understand why something tastes how it does.
Thinking about the place the wine comes from is rewarding. It helps you to understand a little bit more about the juice itself. It helps to deepen your appreciation of the wine, and of the people who nurture their grapes to perfection.
If you’ve ever travelled to a wine producing area, you might have a pretty clear idea of what I’m talking about. You remember that bottle of wine you had while visiting that Chateau in France? Have another glass, think about the memories it brings back, the place it reminds you of. Do yourself a favour; try tasting a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc alongside a Sancerre. See the difference? That’s terroir speaking.