WTF is Terroir?

After mentioning terroir a bit in Monday’s winery review, I thought it deserved a post all for itself. Also, in case you’re like me, avoid pronouncing it “terror.” Because it’s French and therefore fancy, the correct pronunciation is going to be “Tare-WAH-r.”

So what exactly is it? Terroir is how different regional factors influence the taste of your wine. Specifically, it focuses on soil, climate, elevation, and other things in that general scheme. You’re probably more aware of terroir than you think. For instance, have you ever gone to the store looking for a Bordeaux Blend? Notice that you’re not looking for a Merlot/Pinot Noir/Cabernet blend, but rather by the location of where those grapes where grown.

The easiest way to spot terroir in your wines would be to give yourself a bit of a blind tasting. Pick up 2-3 bottles of the same 100% varietal wine (Cabernet Sauvignon will probably be your best bet). Grab a French one, a California one, and one from your home state. Try to check the bottle and choose wines that are aged/oaked similarly. If you really want to taste a difference, make sure to have a wine from a seaside vineyard. You’ll be able to taste differences in each wine. Bonus points if you write down the flavors you get from each sip.

Now what doesn’t affect terroir? The winemaking! The actual actions once the grapes are picked is not part of terroir. For instance, you can have two wines from the same vineyard. They’ll receive the same sun, are grown at the same elevation, and are in the same soil. But one is aged in oak and another in stainless steel. They’re going to taste different, but that is a result of the winemaker’s choices, not the terroir.

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