Terroir is a French term and concept with no equivalent in the English language. Actually, there isn’t much of an agreement on what terroir means, and it seems that there is much more use of this word than a real understanding of the concept. That is why we’ve set this guide for you to get a full picture of what terroir means and implies.
Why is terroir important for wine quality?
A wine style and quality uniqueness are directly shaped by a specific unique terroir. In the simplest terms, terroir is formed by the interaction of at least four main aspects:
While people most often disagree on WHAT does it include or it does not, most wine experts agree that it is a matter of interaction along with different aspects of the environment. Keep reading to understand how exactly terroir supports a particular sense of place, and what makes your favorite wine to be so yummy.
How does terroir affect wine?
Terroir is determined by four main components:
Grapevines, as all the plants on planet earth, use the energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide from the air, and water from the soil, in sugars. The plant uses these carbohydrates to produce different compounds for its development and growth.
From the plant survival perspective, the soil is responsible to provide it with the required molecules for photosynthesis to complete its vital cycle.
From the enological perspective, a well-balanced plant produces at its best potential the compounds responsible for the wine color, flavor, aromas, and structure, impacting directly on wine quality.
There are many different types of soils, and each soil’s uniqueness is given by soil composition and structure. The fine texture regulates mostly the water availability. It might be composed of clay, sand or loam, increasing (or decreasing) a wine flavor intensity or complexity by concentration (or dilution).
On the other hand, the presence of stones is mostly responsible for regulating soil temperature and vine fertility and vigor. The mineral composition of soil might express in your wine through notes of wet stones, crushed stones, chalk, graphite, iodine, matches box, undergrowth or earth.
Terrain conditions influence as well on a grape composition:
Higher Altitudes reduces the atmospheric filter, increasing solar radiation over the grapes. This leads to thicker skins making wines with much more color, more astringency, and more expressive aromas.
As altitude increases, the nights become colder and there is much more thermal amplitude, increasing as well a wine’s acidity, promoting crispier and fresher profiles.
Different terrain slopes favor water drainage, sun exposure, soil depth and air masses movement that might positively impact on specific vineyards quality.
Also, diverse valley shapes, the presence of large bodies of water, and proximity to the oceans will impact on the grape and wine characteristics.
When it comes to climate, a specific place temperature, humidity, wind, and precipitations directly affects to the vine.
Out of all, the most influential aspect is, without doubt, the temperatures. Quite often you will hear about wine regions worldwide being classified either by cold climate or warm climate.
Next time, before choosing a bottle, close your eyes and picture yourself in that wine region. Is it sunny and hot? Then expect rich, complex, high alcohol, low acidity wines. Does it sound more like chilly and cloudy? Then get ready for a crisp, fresh, dry and lower alcohol wine.
A wine region’s viticultural heritage and the enological school has a great influence on a wine character. For instance, the viticulturist might choose to have specific plant density, variety, clone, rootstock, training system, yield levels, picking date and fruit selection shaping absolutely on the characteristics of the grapes.
On the other hand, a winemaker might feel happier with specific tank shapes or materials (from Qvery to stainless still), oak type (French or American), oak size (chips, staves, barrels, butts, etc), Yeast (wild vs industrial), for example.
It would lead to a more “new world” or “old world” approach and gives the winemaker the ability to imprint character to a wine style.
Old World Wine
Old world wines are from countries where winemaking first originated. It is commonly known as lighter bodies, being less alcoholic, having a fresher acidity, and tasting notes less fruity profiles.
Some of the most well-known old world countries are France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Hungary, and Germany. Also, less popular countries like Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova are part of this group.
New World Wine
New world wines are from countries or regions where winemaking was imported during the age of exploration. They are frequently described as tasting riper, having higher alcohol, having less acidity, and having a much more fruit-forward profile.
New world wine countries account for: Argentina, the United States, South Africa, Australia, Chile, and New Zealand are New World wine regions. Also, most lately China, India, and Japan are developing their wine industries.
Top 5 most extreme terroir of the world
The highest vineyard
The highest vineyard of the world is Vines in Tibet sitting at 3,563.31 meters above sea level. It is in Cai Na Xiang, Qushui County of Lhasa, Tibet and it was recognized by Guinness World Records in 2018.
This title was owned before by the Argentinian winery Colomé Estate. It is located in the Salta region and grows a fantastic powerful Malbec at around 3,111 meters above sea level.
The most hostile vineyard
The Lanzarote La Geria vineyard in the Canary Islands is rather extreme. On one hand, it sits over dark lava fields and sand. On the other, it is exposed to extreme winds with extremely rare rains.
How do they manage to produce wine? Well, the vines are planted in wide, deep pits that help the viticulturist to collect rainwater and provide some shelter to the vines against the winds. They produce a Malvasia.
The most isolated vineyard
DOMAINE DOMINIQUE AUROY- Blanc de Corail (VIN DE TAHITI)
Vin de Tahiti grows vines on the Rangiroa atoll, a remote island located in the heart of the vast South Pacific Ocean, more than 3 107 miles (5 000 km) from the closest continent.
The vines grow in fields of crushed coral structured and enriched with natural compost – essentially seaweed and vine canes from pruning. It is produced with Italia, Muscat de Hambourg
The northernmost vineyard
Lerkekåsa Vineyard is the northernmost commercial vineyard in the world, located in Telemark, Norway (59°40′N; 09°19′E). The vineyard is located in an area with plenty of sun, 100 meters above sea level, facing the lake of Norsjø. The soil in the area is rich in minerals from the melted water of the glaciers at Hardangervidda.
A vineyard in the Sahara
Egyptian culture is not indifferent to wine industry, since they were growing and trading wine many thousands of years ago. Due to a couple of decades of military rule, and recent revolution, wine production today is not as exploted at its best potential.
Karim Hwaidak owns Sahara Vineyards producing Viognier, Chenin Blanc, and a Blanc de Noirs (Grenache Blanc). How extreme is a vineyard located outside the ancient city of Luxor?