Terroir is one of those words tossed around in wine circles, designed to keep the “uninformed”, that way. It refers to the different characteristics that grapes, and the wines they produce, have that are related to their country of origin. A Pinot Grigio grape will always display certain flavours, almost no matter where it’s grown. But it will have subtle differences that are specific to the area that it came from. One of the more obvious differences is the result of the local climate. Grapes grown in a cool climate won’t ripen as much as ones grown in a hot climate. So an Italian Pinot Grigio will have been made from fruit that was allowed to ripen on the vine a little longer than one from California. The riper fruit will produce a little more of a sharpness or tang in the wine.
There’s a lot more than just temperature that will affect the grapes as well. The amount of rainfall and the hours of sunshine have a significant affect. So do the winds and the soil. In fact the soil can impart an assortment of mineral flavours, and how old the vines are and how deep their roots go, will affect how much mineral they pull out of the soil.
This is one of the reasons the French have insisted that Bordeaux can only refer to wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, in the BORDEAUX region of France. The rest of the world can simply call it Cab Merlot. Bordeaux wines are all from that region in France that has the terroir that made them famous. And the rest of Europe has just decided to hop on board with this idea. We haven’t been able to use French names like Bordeaux, Champagne or Beaujolais for years. Now we have to stop using names like Chianti, Barolo and Rioja as well. We’ll switch to Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Tempranillo instead, because those are the names of the grapes they are based on, as opposed to the region they were produced.
All of that has added to the mystique around wine. Some wines have always been named after their grapes, like Merlot and Pinot Grigio. Others became famous from the regional names like Chianti and Rioja. The only people who have any chance of sorting all this out is the “informed” crowd.
Blog provided by: Ray Vezeau, owner of Chateau Vezeau Wines, a ferment on premises winemaking facility in Brooklin. www.ChateauVezeauWines.com