An often used but overwhelmingly misunderstood term, Terroir, for the majority of us is a concept shrouded in mystery and approached with caution, or not at all – however, although this vast and fascinating subject could take a lifetime to delve into, it can also, like most enigmas, be broken down into key areas that you can get your head around in a few minutes, or perhaps a few strategically chosen glasses of wine…
The four aspects of Terroir:
Climate – the average weather conditions of a particular area that determine which grapes can be grown there to maximum success. When it comes to wine this is divided into cool and warm, with warm climate wines being higher in sugar content and cooler climate wines giving more acidity.
Soil – there are untold different types of soil, rocks and minerals that make up the world’s vineyards, and each environment allows for different drainage, light reflection and retention of heat and water, all of which play a role in the traits of the crop and subsequent behaviour of the wine. From chalky soils of Chablis in Burgundy, and Sancerre in the Loire Valley, all producing iconic zesty white wines, to the limestone rich clay soils of Rioja and Chianti giving some of the boldest red and whites in the world, soil is widely thought to be the biggest player in the Terroir game.
Terrain – the exact positioning and direction in which the vineyard faces present a variety of geological factors that will impact upon the crop – be it altitude, large bodies of water, mountains, salty sea air or surrounding flora and fauna – meaning even two relatively nearby vineyards can produce wines which are poles apart.
Tradition – alongside all of the above, the role of the winemaker and their techniques cannot be underplayed. Ancient winemaking methods tend to be determined by the region’s climate, soil and terrain – choices such as fermentation times or use of barrels to age their wines. This is less considered when it comes to modern winemakers, by pushing boundaries and applying more modern and experimental methods we are seeing interesting and extraordinary wines coming from emerging and long forgotten regions – upping the global wine game for the better – although not always giving a true reflection of the Terroir of the wines origin.
For most Terroir is an ethos, a collective for the influencing factors that give a wine its defining character and distinguishing attributes, a broad and infinite combination of elements that joyfully give us such a varied spectrum of wines from around the globe. As much as the city, estate and even road you grew up on can influence the person you become, the Terroir plays its integral part with the wines we drink.