July 27, 2016
Terroir is a French word meaning soil or land, and in the context of wine, according to dictionary.com, it is "the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown and that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma".
Burgundy and Bordeaux are perhaps the oldest and best known terroirs. There the vineyards and the skills to make good wine were passed on from generation to generation. The French discovered the marketing value of terroir many years ago, and drinking a Burgundy or a Bordeaux, regardless from which chateau it comes, creates an image of a unique range of tastes and qualities.
There are other well known terroirs in the old world: The Rioja (Spain), the Moselle (Germany), the Wachau (Austria), and Piedmont (Italy) to name just a few.
When the New World started to produce wines in quantities, and in better and better qualities, its wines were marketed by the grapes; a wine was called a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, etc.
I find it interesting that now that the wine industry has become a global business, there seems to be a merging of the two approaches - terroir v. grape: You see more and more European wines listing the grapes, and more New World wines trying to market terroir - Napa Valley and Somoma Valley to mention just two.
In absolute terms, with today's scientific advances in understanding the growing of grapes, and the scientific approach to making wine, great wines can come from almost any wine growing region. In his book ''Terroir and Other Myths of Winegrowing'', Mark A. Matthews scientifically questions the value of terroir. Is it nothing more than a marketing move to redirect attention from the wine itself to the mystique of the terroir?
Even though I agree that the use of terroir may have become much of a marketing ploy, I am still emotionally attached to it. I just like it. It is a bit like name dropping. It adds authority to your statement when you say something like ''I think the best Cabs come from Sonoma Valley.''
Oh, by the way, the best chocolates come from Austria.