9.5.08

Do you care for Wine terroir (ism)?

Terroir is a French winemaking concept which considers topography, climate and soil as the major factors in classifying wine. Rather than the grape variety itself, terrior dictates the quality of wines based on where the grapes were grown, what kind of soil it was grown and the time of the grapes’ harvest,. In essence, terroir means “unique wines from a unique area”. Although the concept remains debatable among the world’s wine producers, terroir serves as the basis for the French AOC or Appelation d’Origine Controlee system which in turn is governed by the Institut Nationaldes Appelations d’Origine or INAO.

AOC’s appellation system mandates France’s stringest winemaking and production controls. AOC more than guarantees that the wine from every French bottle comes from the region indicated on the label to specify which types of grapes are grown in a region and how the wine was made. The AOC serves as a model for many European systems.

Defining the topography factor, terroir prescribes that grapes are grown according to a specific size of an area where, macroclimate is considered as the larger part; or perhaps is a smaller subsection of an area and is called mesoclimate; and the microclimate which often are vineyard areas with just rows of grapevines.

The intrinsic nature and composition of the soil defines fertility, drainage and the soil’s ability to retain heat. On the other hand, topography which is the third factor refers to the natural landscape of the place. It maybe a valley, a mountain, or it may have bodies of water interacting with the region’s aspect and altitudes. Together, all these three factors define what a good wine is.

Terroir’s concept is further expanded by the human factor in the winemaking process. This includes human decisions such as the grape variety, pruning style, irrigation, time of harvest. It also includes other wine growing and wine making techniques like the use or yeast fermentation versus cultured or lab produced yeast or the question about utilizing oak as something that may or may not enhance the wine’s terrior.

Futhermore, “the importances of these influences depends on the culture of a particular wine region. In France, particularly Burgundy, there is the belief that the role of winemaker is to bring out the expression of a wine's terroir rather. The French word for winemaker, vigneron is more aptly translated to "wine-grower" rather than winemaker. The belief that the terroir is the dominate influence in the wine is the basis behind French wine label emphasizing the region, vineyard or AOC more prominently on the label rather than the grape variety and often more prominently than the producer.”

French law divides wine into four categories, two falling under the European Union's Table Wine category and two falling under the EU's Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) designation. The categories are:

Table Wines:
Vin de Table -Carries with it only the producer and the designation that it is from France

Vin de Pays - Carries with it a specific region within France (for example Vin de Pays d'Oc fromLanguedoc-Rousillon or Vin de Pay Cotes de Gascogne from Gascony.

Wow, just pronouncing that properly makes me feel I really have no pedigree.

So the next time you savor that red, white or sparkling wine, wonder if you may, is it from France and in particular where was it produced? Maybe from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace or the Rhone or perhaps the Loire Valley?

Or maybe just like what we drink, just plain, old and cheap French table wines.

Cheers!

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