What is the terroir of a wine? Does it matter? What is it made of?
The world of wine has fascinated me for several years, so I will give you the answers as precisely as possible.
The terroir of a wine is made up of several elements: its geographical location, its soil and the work of man. This is a set that gives the wine unique specificities.
In this article, we will see:
- How we can define a terroir
- What is a terroir wine?
- How to better understand this principle of terroir
After your reading, you will know everything about the terroir! Without further ado, let’s get started.
What is terroir?
The notion of terroir is difficult for many to grasp, especially in the vineyards of the New World (in America, Asia, Oceania, etc.). There is not really an equivalent word in English for example, which is why in all languages the terroir is called “terroir”.
To define terroir, we could say that: terroir is the set of all the factors that make up the typicality of a wine. It is made up of three main parts: the geographical location, the soil and finally the work of the man.
Let’s take a look at these big parts.
Geographical location of the terroir
The geographical location not only defines the location of the vineyard on a map, but also other important factors such as:
Here, we are not only talking about meteorology, but about the whole climate. We will therefore necessarily think of the rains, but not exclusively. Climate includes:
- The average precipitation
- The type of wind (hot, cool, very windy or not)
- The average temperature (higher and lower)
- Potential climate threats (frost, hail or frequent storms)
There are many climates on the planet (oceanic, continental, mountain climate, etc.). It should also be noted that there are micro-climates in these same climates. A forest, the side of a mountain or a basin will offer a different micro-climate from that of the region.
The altitude is the height above the sea where the vine is installed.
A vine will not give the same grapes if it is grown in the mountains or by the sea at an altitude close to 0. The altitude changes the temperatures, the winds and the oxygen provided (don’t forget that the vines are living plants and also need oxygen).
Some grape varieties are more suitable than others for life in the mountains, for example.
Topography also has a role to play in the terroir. We will think here in particular of the slopes. A slope allows rainwater to run off and thus not to stagnate. Stagnant water in the soil in contact with the vines is never very good, which is why it is commonly said that a vineyard installed on a slope will often give better wine than on flat ground.
Exposition is just as important. A vineyard facing due South (South-West and South-East as well) will benefit from more suitable sunshine, and will therefore offer more gourmet bunches of grapes.
The soil of a terroir
When we talk about the soil of a terroir, we are talking more about the subsoil than the soil itself. The ground is usually made up of earth, while the subsoil offers more surprise. It is in the subsoil that the vine will send its roots, it is therefore important to know that it is the subsoil of the terroir.
In basement type, we find for example:
- The limestone, clay and clay-limestone soil
- The marl (following the disappearance of an ocean)
- The sand from the seas, but also the gravel and gravel
- Shale and granite.
- Rolled pebbles (basalt, volcanic rocks)
The soil of a vineyard is rarely composed of just one of these soil types, but more of a mixture or overlap.
But what can soil bring to wine in concrete terms? It will provide precise specifications. For example, a granite floor can make your wine more harmonious and softer. Volcanic soil can offer a long-lasting wine with smoky aromas. Finally, a clay soil offers opulent and tannic wines.
To get a good vine, the soil should not be too rich in nutrients and water, because the vine might not counter the juice in the grape. A poor soil is therefore more suitable for making wine, indeed the vine will then have to extend its roots deeper into the ground. The deeper the roots, the better the grape will be.
The work of man
In itself, without man, the land is nothing but a beautiful landscape. The work of man therefore fits perfectly into the terroir of a wine.
The man, or rather the winemaker, will have to highlight all the elements at his disposal to create the best wine.
Concerning the vine, man must choose the best grape variety according to the soil on his plots. He must care for and take care of his vines when necessary (appropriate pruning, trellising, etc.). He also chooses the best time for the harvest and each year selects the plots that will be used for which wine.
In the cellar, he will choose the best vinification (in barrels or in vats) to let the terroir shine through in his wine. He will choose all the products that will go into his wine.
By doing all this, man allows the creation of a true terroir wine.
What is a terroir wine?
A terroir wine is a wine created meticulously to highlight the geographical and geological compositions of the vines. This type of wine can carry the typical characteristics of the region, both in terms of geography and in terms of tradition and technique.
In short, a terroir wine is not a wine that will follow “fashion”. It is a wine that will respect as faithfully as possible its land of origin, or rather its terroir of origin.
A wine that is not a terroir wine is often a varietal wine.
A varietal wine is a wine that will try to “keep up with the times”. Regardless of the region where it is produced. For example, if the fashion this summer will be to produce sweet rosé wines, so varietal wines will try as close as possible to that. Varietal wines do not give too much importance to traditions and techniques, but more to the final aroma.
Varietal wines are not to be thrown away. It is not because a wine is made in the “traditions” that it will necessarily be better. This is mostly a matter of taste.
Better understand the principle of terroir
A terroir is a real mix of the three factors listed above. Geographical location alone is not enough to create a terroir, traditions and centuries of improvement must be taken into account.
This explains why many New World vineyards produce varietal wines and not terroir wines. Countries like China, Chile or the United States do not have a long enough wine-growing history to be able to produce a lot of local wine.
You only have to look at a map of appellations in France and that of one of these countries to understand that the notion of terroir is not as important. In France, there are many appellations, sub-appellations and sometimes even communal appellations. This is due to the fact that the terroirs are well known and reputed to be different.
However, as said before, it is not because a wine is a varietal wine that it is bad. There are undoubtedly local wines with millennial traditions that you will find just right for cooking.
Wines to discover
Whether it’s going to the supermarket or going to your favorite wine shop, I can only recommend that you taste one of these local wines!
To find it easily, simply rely on the great name of a castle or vineyard that has been known and recognized for years. Appellations such as Burgundy, Bordeaux or Côte du Rhône offer many local wines. For varietal wines, I recommend you taste a foreign wine (especially South America).