Happy New Year! Two years ago, I wrote an article entitled “Four New Year’s Wine Resolutions” where I talked about expanding our wine horizons, saying goodbye to wine intimidation (my favorite), becoming a student of wine, and taking a deep breath, relaxing and enjoying! While I still love those resolutions, I propose that we add one more resolution to our wine resolution list this year: Explore terroir!
Terroir (pronounced Tare wahr) is a French term that represents the growing environment of the grapes. It encompasses everything from the soil content to the slant of the hill to the direction of the sun to the amount of fog and precipitation.
Why is it so much fun to explore terroir? Well, for one, it could mean that you get to travel to a bunch of great places ☺ But it could also mean developing a better understanding of which regions’ wines you really enjoy.
Terroir can make a tremendous difference to the taste of wine. This is why the French name their wines after the region and not the grape. They are paying homage to each region’s influence on the wine.
So how do you explore terroir? A really fun way to do this is to host a wine-tasting evening where you try two wines, perhaps Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. You come up with a list of the regions that you want to try, and you ask your guests to bring wines from those regions.
Because Chardonnay is a fairly neutral grape, it is a really good one for exploring terroir. In your terroir tasting, here’s what you might find:
- Chardonnays from the Chablis region of France are likely to be lean and crisp, with a lot of mineral notes.
- Oregonian Chardonnays are likely to be acidic.
- Napa Chardonnays are likely to be buttery and oaky.
- Santa Barbara Chardonnays are likely to have tropical notes.
What contributes to the big differences? If the grapes are grown in sandy soil, where water retention is challenging, the fruit will struggle to find water and develop a lot of complexity. If the grapes are grown in clay soil, where water retention is better, the grapes will be less complex. If the soil has iron deposits, the grapes typically will display more minerality.
On the temperature side, grapes grown in cooler climates don’t get as ripe. So they don’t have as much sugar to convert into alcohol, which results in wines with less alcohol. Cooler climate Chardonnays often have a green tint, are more acidic and have some herbaceous notes.
I hope you decide to explore terroir in 2013. If you host a terroir tasting, please share your results with us.
Cheers to a WINEderful 2013!