Hang out with corkheads long enough, and someone will eventually start talking about terroir. Wine's typically not something to be scared of, so what gives?
No, not "terror" -- "terroir!" It's pronounced "tare-WAHR" and is the backbone of any wine. Specifically -- it's where the bloomin' grapes come from.
The term is often used in discussions of the soil in which grapes grow, but I prefer the broader definition. Terroir certainly includes the soil itself, but also encompasses the climate and the topography of the growing region. The most obvious example of the expression of terroir is in the classification of French and Italian wines.
To wit, the terroir of the
So, why does all this matter? What difference does it make where these wines are from – especially wines like the ones we’ve got here – wines that aren’t the tippy top of the scale?
Because where the grapes are grown can tell you as much about what’s in that bottle as the grape varietal itself. If you’ve been reading the Vine for awhile – or even if you’ve just stumbled your way through
Terroir also explains why some regions grow certain grapes. Pinot noir, for instance, needs a very particular type of climate. That’s why so few regions produce the grape. And it’s no accident that
I bring all this up because knowing a wine’s terroir (and the general flavors of wines from that area) comes in very handy when you’re trying to find a wine either to pair with food or just to have on its own. As a rule of thumb – wines grown in cooler climates tend to be more delicate and have more complex flavors. Warmer climate wines tend to be higher in alcohol and have much more powerful fruit tastes.
One of the complaints you'll often hear about wines in the price range we're most interested in is the "uniformity of flavor" these wines often have. "One tastes like another," you'll hear many people say. Even among similarly priced wines from the same country, you’ll find significant differences. As an example, I tasted three American syrahs -- often considered to be fairly uniform. I looked at three, all between $10-12:
I started with the J. Lohr 2005 South Ridge Syrah. J. Lohr's syrah comes from Paso Robles. Red wines from Paso Robles (about halfway between
From there, we move on to the Rock Rabbit 2004
Finally, I went with the Hogue 2005 Syrah. I expected a big difference, and I wasn't disappointed. Hogue is from
So, have no fear of terroir – let it be your ace in the hole when it comes to picking the “right wine.” Much as in the description of Paso Robles above, you can feel pretty safe in picking out a flavor profile once you get exposed to a certain terroir. Give it a go and see what you find!