By Justin Taylor
The terminology of wine can be a journey through multiple languages that often leave us as confused at our introduction to its meaning as much as we are intrigued by its origins. The part of the northern hemisphere that is often referred to as the “Old World”, earned its reputation with thousands of years of wine production. Not only have wines been staples to specific areas of European countries, but growers have learned strengths and weaknesses of each piece of ground on the family farm planted to grapes. The term terroir (pronounced “tare- WAHr”) has to be one of the more enigmatic tools in the rolodex of wine terminology.
Part of the confusion behind the word terroir is that it has no direct English translation from French, but rather a group of representative factors that influence the growth of wine grapes. The most concise set of variables that contribute to terroir are climate, soil, aspect/slope, and the very important influence of culture and management practices in the vineyard. During the 18th century, wine in Europe began to take on character and certain locations and regions defined themselves based on that. By 1855 in Bordeaux, France, a formal classification of growing regions was conducted in order to separate those vineyards that grow and produce the best wines of that time. The term terroir not only meant that the growing conditions for the grapes contributed to the wine but that the region itself be named and designated for prestige and support of the industry.
Fast forward to 2016 when wine is being produced around the globe from grapes grown in areas with little climate change from year to year. Wines are almost being manufactured from regions where vines would not normally grow, let alone even survive without supplemental water. If you compare wines from these regions to others growing in more temperate regions, the wines produced are completely different in many respects. My challenge to you as a consumer is to embrace and explore these variations, celebrate everyone’s interpretation of what can be done on their specific site. You never know when the next best wine will come from a new take on an old varietal.
The answer to last month’s trivia is Kékfrankos, also known as Blaufränkisch. For a unique taste of terroir, explore wines made from this grape of Hungarian origin. The wine and vine trivia for next issue is: What is the leading soil type found on the right bank of Bordeaux in St. Emilion and Pomerol?