>> Sunday, March 11, 2007
It’s nice to find a wine article in the daily press that is a bit more thoughtful, and thought provoking, then the regular “drink this or drink that” stuff. I recently chanced upon one of those articles in one of Sweden’s biggest quality dailies (Svenska Dagbladet) written by a PhD in biochemistry. Even nicer was to meet the author, again by chance, at a wine tasting I led a few days later. The article was a mixture of an essay on terroir and a review of an interesting wine book, The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode. It seems that the author would really like to find the “true” definition of what terroir is, or means, but, alas, that does not exist. Sometimes terroir refers to something that can be described as the ensemble of the environment where the wine has been grown, the soil, the microclimate and perhaps the local vegetation. Sometimes, as the author points out, people also include other things, such as the grape variety (or varieties) and wine making traditions. Personally, I would rather use the first definition rather than the latter, but who am I to say that it is right.
It makes me think of a wine maker who once said that some visitors (and often Swedish actually) have very technical and very precise questions when they come and visit her vineyard. ”What is the grape variety blend in this wine?” – and an answer such as “Well, this year it was probably 25% X, 30% Y and 45% Z, if I remember right, but it varies much from year to year.” is not welcome. Or “How much new oak do you use?”, then they are not happy with “It depends. Sometimes we don’t use any new oak at all and sometimes perhaps up to 50%.” Rather than thinking about how they wine expresses itself in the glass they want to know all the technical details. (Another aspect is that this reality – things are not clear cut – makes life harder for wine writers…)
But to come back to terroir – certainly it matters, and certainly it “exists”, but what it is and how it influences the wine is more difficult to say, and more personal. An example is if you visit a winery in Burgundy and the winemaker lets you taste two different wines. Then he says “The grapes were grown some 50 metres apart. I have done identical harvesting, winemaking and aging” and you have still two very different wine in front of you (Come on one of our wine tours and you will see!). Another example was a wine we had last night. It was a “classic Bordeaux” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot but very distinctly not Bordeaux with a very good expression of Languedoc terroir (the wine, by the way, was from a very interesting young producer in the Languedoc called Domaine de Terres Georges).
Unfortunately – or perhaps, fortunately – wine is often not very scientific.
Another question that the author of the article talked about was “minerality” in the wine. Does it come from the vine sucking up trace elements of minerals through the roots so an a chalky soil you get chalky minerality because you have, well, chalk in the wine? To me, minerality is simply a way to describe a certain characteristic in the wine, a characteristic that is a bit difficult to explain. It often implies that the wine has a high level of acidity, a slightly ”hard edge” but well structured and clean taste. Difficult to explain but easy to show in a wine. And yes, certain soil types give more minerality to wines than others. But do I believe that it is because small chunks of mineral have found their way into the wine through the roots? No, not really. Not more than that I think that the blackcurrant flavour of a Cabernet Sauvignon wine has to do with black currants.
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