If the word “terroir” has you staring blankly in confusion, you’re not alone. Keep reading to open up a whole new chapter in your wine tasting repertoire.
If you’ve ever felt a bit lost when listening to someone comment on the terroir of a wine, you’re not alone. “Oh, why yes! This wine clearly reflects the terroir of southern Italy, perhaps Sardinia or even Sicily.” Huh?!?
For casual wine drinkers, terroir may not be terribly important. You’ll still be able to enjoy a wide variety of wines without understanding this piece of wine jargon. However, if you have aspirations of expanding your wine tasting skills, then understanding what terroir is can give you a big leg up.
Terroir is the French term for the geographical characteristics unique to a given vineyard. Did that clear it up for you? Probably not, but no worries! Today we’re going to explain what exactly terroir is and why it matters for your wine.
What is Terroir?
If the definition above didn’t clear anything up for you, you’re not the only one. The exact definition of terroir is highly debated. For some, it’s about the particular characteristics of wine but for others, it all comes down to the materials used to make that wine. However, the largest opinion seems to agree that terroir is about the actual location of a particular vineyard.
That being the case, terroir would encompass soil composition, elevation, sun exposure, latitude, and climate. Anything the vintner chooses to do as far as leaf pulling, irrigation techniques, or vine training wouldn’t necessarily be included. That means the actual process of turning grapes into wine doesn’t have anything to do with terroir.
In the most basic sense, terroir is all about how Mother Nature treats the grapes before we start transforming them into wine. While it can refer to specific regions, that’s almost too broad. Even within the same city, two different vineyards may have drastically different soil quality. So, while you can try to describe the terroir of Italian wines, it would be more accurate to describe the terroir of wine from a particular vineyard.
Why Don’t More People Talk About Terroir?
The concept of terroir is honestly pretty mindblowing. Imagine that you’ve established a vineyard and the grapes you harvest from the land make the most exquisite wines. No one else around you makes wine with quite like yours. Wouldn’t you want to shout about it from the rooftop? Why don’t more vineyards advertise the terroir of their wines to highlight those unique and subtle characteristics?
First, if you actually go to a vineyard and talk to the winemaker…they’ll probably tell you ALL about it. Winemakers are insanely proud of their land and their wine, so they know every detail about how the land influences their final product.
Second, unless you’re a master sommelier, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pick up on those details. It’s not just because it’s really hard (although it is), it’s because you’d have to drink a LOT of wine from a LOT of different places. Then you’d have to remember all those different experiences so you can compare them.
So, unless it’s literally your job to understand how the land of a particular vineyard affects its wine…you might as well just enjoy your glass and not worry about it. However, while it is tricky to tease out the particular characteristics of terroir from wine, you can still practice honing this particular aspect of wine tasting.
Experience Terroir by Drinking Wine!
One of the best parts of learning about wine is that it pretty much always requires drinking wine. So, here’s one of the best homework assignments you’ve probably ever experienced.
The wines you see below were all made from grapes grown on the Tenuta Santa Lucia vineyard on coastal Tuscany near Pisa. They each have different flavors, aromas, and textures. However, since the grapes that made them were all from the same location, they should all hypothetically have the same terroir.
While some grape varietals will express terroir more strongly than others, you may still be able to pick up on the subtle characteristics imparted on these wines from the land.
Speaking of the land, the Tenuta di Santa Lucia vineyard is particularly lovely. On top of that, the uniqueness of the land also makes it particularly useful for picking up on terroir. It’s roughly 100m above sea level and nestled between two valleys. The soil consists of different layers of tufaceous (volcanic compounds like ash or cinder) sand and gravel.
The Mediterranean climate is, no surprise here, absolutely beautiful. Breezes from the sea warm the area, while the cool air funneled between the valleys protect the vines from newer heat waves. The grapes on the vineyard experience a unique exchange with the woods that completely surround the area. Indigenous plants from those woods end up exchanging aromatics with the grapes, creating a unique richness not found anywhere else.
Expand Your Wine Tasting Skills
Another great way to understand terroir is by visiting a local vineyard and sampling their wares! For those of you still practicing social distancing, however, becoming a SECCO Wine Club member will bring the wine straight to your door. If you’re not ready to commit to full membership, no worries! You can still order as much wine as you like, and as often as you please. We wouldn’t dream of telling you how to enjoy your wine 😉
That’s because one of the most beautiful parts of wine is that it’s a never-ending journey. Every vineyard has its own unique qualities to impart on a glass of wine, and you can experience the beauty of the land in every sip. Follow us for all the latest updates, and don’t forget to tag us in your next SECCO Wine Club adventure!