Scanning the national wine blogs and columns provides an interesting perspective on what the wine cognicenti are yapping about. Without getting into the technical details of these mostly pedantic exchanges, suffice it say that there is a modicum of intelligent dialogue taking place on a variety of aspects related to grape growing and wine making.
One such “inside baseball” argument examines the whole experience of creating a wine – from the soil to the sky. It is worth recounting if only for the residual humor it provides as we try to understand the complexities and nuances of the debate. It begins with one of my pet peeves: the almost criminal (and many times hilarious) misuse of language — mainly French — by the domestic wine industry.
To be fair, though, this abuse of the King’s English is ubiquitous. In fact, I see the Americanized version of English as a moving target full of constantly changing buzz words, acronyms and words borrowed from other languages. (Can’t you just visualize a meeting at Webster’s New World Dictionary where pointy-headed etymologists gather in a dark room and grudgingly grant official English language status to words such as goober, nerd and bootie?) However, one of the worst offenders of this indiscriminate and abusive practice is the American wine industry.
Take, for example, the confusing issue of terroir. At first glance, you might wonder why there is so much written about the terrier<co > as it relates to wine. Are these grape watchdogs, or what? You might also have misread the word as terror and become quite concerned that an anti-wine terrorist group might be planting IED’s in vineyards and wineries.
Fear not, my friends. There are no terrorist plots (I hope) related to wine. However, terroir (pronounced tare-WAH — I think), is one meaningful word! I wouldn’t even bother explaining this word except that some knowledgeable wine folks contend that understanding the complex definition of terroir really is important in appreciating the qualitative differences among wines. But terroir’s meaning in the wine lexicon is so loosey-goosey (now there’s a good non-word for you) that defining it as “all-encompassing” would be too restrictive.
Okay, so what does it mean? Well, terroir starts with the place where the grapes are grown: the vineyard location, its slope, topography and angle toward the sun, as well as its longitude and latitude. In addition, you add in the soil, climate, average rainfall, fog and temperature, as well as the type of vine or clone of a particular grapevine — these are all part of terroir.
But wait, I’m not finished. Terroir is also affected by the agricultural practices of the grower and the techniques, including the application of technology used in the cellar by the wine maker. And others in the debate consider culture and social mores of the wine-producing region as a component of terroir. See what I mean? This is where the debate, like a misguided space probe, veers toward infinity.
So, in practical terms, how can terroir help you select the correct bottle for that special dinner or enhance your overall enjoyment of wine? It probably can’t. But if you’re as wine-obsessed as I am, exploring the issue in detail can offer an interesting academic exercise, and just maybe provide a little intellectual pleasure to the sensory and visceral pleasures of drinking wine.
So the next time someone asks your opinion of a particular wine, just look them straight in the eye and proclaim: “It’s obviously the tear-wah, Bubba!” Then, turn and quickly leave so you won’t have to tell them what it means.