A Short Plea For The Forgotten People of Wine Tasting
The General Public
Terroir Me No Terroir
We’re in the holiday season, and I wanted to use it to expose one of the great myths of the wine world that has been starting to annoy me more and more. It's used by those in the know, as a way of describing the sense of place that accompanies a wine. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to the overused word that is ‘TERROIR’.
Sooner or later, if you hang around the vineyards of the world, or talk wine at numerous tastings, the word will be inflicted upon you as a form of shorthand for the marriage of place, soil, time, climate, people, hobbies, and all other extraneous pieces of descriptive addition people can think up.
Rarely, is there a book, an expert, or a vineyard where it’s not mentioned (I’ve even been known to use the word myself) and this is all well and good for the wine professionals who travel the same road together. Like so much that is connected to the world of wine it’s a French word that brings together just about anything that might add a mysticism to the process of growing grapes and then putting them in a bottle. Remember that these are farming people. Expensive farming, but dealing with the land just the same.
So far, so very poetic, but where does this leave the average wine customer who knows what they like, might have never been to a vineyard, or even to the country that produces their favourite tipple? How does it help them to understand the relationship between what they drink and place? I would argue that it doesn't, and we need to find ways to include the general public when it comes to describing wine.
Does knowing about location, and 'terroir' help us to to get more out of a wine, and to share what we feel about that wine? I would say yes, but only if you know the place of origin.
Try and pick an unusual wine location and then describe it to somebody who has never been there, or hasn't a clue. Now watch how far your 'terroir' talk gets you. For goodness sake, just give them a glass and watch them enjoy themselves. Talk about the fruit they can taste, the nose they might be getting, and you'll probably get a nod and a smile; but start rabbiting on about 'terroir' and the like, and then, if they've not been there, watch their eyes gloss over.
To put this further to the test, I want you, at the end of the summer, after you’ve had a rather fine holiday, to try and describe something you did, or something you ate and drank that you know the person you are talking to hasn’t a clue about. You're not allowed to show them a photo as that is avoiding real description that will be relevant to them.
If I describe drinking a wonderful glass of Prosecco in the square of Asolo, while looking at the beautiful Venetian Villa, and the shop that makes doorknobs, or how much it is influenced by its terroir, then unless you have been there, sampled the wine in locale (or even gone into the doorknob shop) you won't have a real clue, and will have to face what is in your glass alone. Thus the idea of ‘Terroir’ falls down.
Yet, experts still bang on about 'terroir', while nodding selfishly at each other as though they are part of an exclusive club that they don't want the average wine drinker to be part of. Yes, it’s potential wine snobbery rearing its head once again.
Of course, I’ll use it when I’m talking to somebody in the wine game, but if I'm trying to talk about a wine to a person who enjoys wine, but has never visited the area, I'll let the contents of the glass do the talking.
I've included the photograph below as part of an experiment. I'm not going to tell you where it is (if I'm feeling generous, I might reveal next edition. I want you to pick a wine from where you think it is from, and then as you taste I want you to let the photo help you image the 'terroir'. We'll then see if it works.