Terroir (Revisited) and how it relates to the culture of aging wine

While I already covered the subject of Terroir in my January 2018 Winemaker’s Corner, I decided to revisit this topic since I feel that I left this article somewhat unfinished.  If you are interested in reading my first article, please visit my blog, which you can find on our website www.cgdiarie.com

The concept of Terroir, pronounced “terwah,” was derived from the French word “terre,” which means soil or land.  It is presumed that the land at which the grapes are grown imparts unique characteristics to the wine that distinguishes it from wines grown elsewhere.   While I do agree with the above statement, I have a few qualifications.  While the Terroir has the potential of defining the character of the wine, there are factors that tend to mask this character: 

Farming – In order to preserve the character of the Terroir, the farming techniques should promote uniformity in the level of ripeness of the fruit.  At harvest time if some of the fruit is under-ripe, while some is over-ripe, the effect of the Terroir will be diminished, making the wine more generic.

Harvest Decision – There are no objectively measurable parameters to determine the level of ripeness of grapes.  Many winemakers use the sugar level as a guide for harvest.  Often times this leads to premature harvest, which will mask the effect of the Terroir.  I make my harvest decision subjectively, by tasting the fruit.

Winemaking Style – The use of excessive levels of oak or making the wine highly alcoholic will tend to diminish the Terroir character of the wine.  

The title of this Newsletter promises to relate Terroir to the “Culture of Aging Wine.”  It is not so obvious that there is a connection between Terroir and aging of wines.

An interesting question that I am always asked is how Terroir affects the character of the wine.   In climates that are consistently warm, with large temperatures drops from day to night, usually the wines become fruitier.  These are the typical climates in “New World” wine regions.  Climates having inconsistently high or low temperatures, with lower temperature drops between day and night, the grapes will have a more difficult time ripening, resulting in wines that are less fruity, higher in tannins and more austere. This is the case in old world wine regions.

The culture of aging wines was created in the old world countries for the simple reason that old world wines are not so pleasant to drink when they are young.   As old world wines age, they become smoother, better balanced and develop more exciting flavors.  While new world wines may also benefit from aging, many people find them quite adequate to drink when they are young.  Ninety percent of the wines produced in the world are consumed within the first year of production.

If you are a winemaker in the new world and you are passionate about making wine, my advice to you would be to try to maximize the character of the terroir but also age the wine for a few years before offering for consumption.

Cheers, Chaim Gur-Arieh