As the term itself, the French word terroir or its equivalent in Spanish terruño, refers to the relation between a product and the “land” or place in which it was originated.
In wine making, factors that characterize a terroir can be classified into two big categories: natural factors, such as climate and soil, and human factors like choosing the materials to be used in the production (varietals, rootstocks and yeasts), cultural vineyard practices and winemaking methods. It is very difficult or even impossible for us to modify the natural factors, while the human factors vary and they correspond to a series of decisions taken before and during the life of a vineyard. To establish the guarantee of origin, grape and enology practices are strongly regulated. This means there is a strong limitation to the wines produced in a region but it also grants them a strong identity.
Graphic No.1: natural and human factors that together define a terroir.
The concepts of wine and “terroir” are firmly associated with each other due to the fact that the grapes show a great sensibility upon the conditions in which they are obtained, and this is transferred to the wine. Although there are other products bearing a guarantee of origin like coffee, cheese, ham and olive oil, wine represents the best expression of a place and a culture through a product as it is produced in tens of countries and under different conditions.
Terroir wines are usually more expensive and less produced, that is why it is convenient to consider some points in order to make a good purchase. Then you can rely on the information that appears in the back label, the winery’s web site, or even better, you can take the opportunity to learn from wine experts’ communicators.
Tips for buying a terroir wine:
- The grapes’ origin should be clearly stated.
- The value of the terroir wine will be higher the more restricted is the origin of its grapes according to the following scale: region, vineyard or estate, plot, parcel (sector of a plot).
- The terroir wines’ producer should owe the vineyard used for this wine or, at least, have a long term contract with the proprietor of the vineyard, in order to be able to grant identity to his product throughout time.
- If the wine is identified as “single vineyard” it should be the same vineyard the one which, year after year, is used for the production of such wine.
- If the wine has been obtained from the grapes of a parcel selection (Fr: sélection parcellaire; Sp: selección parcelaria) one should expect that there is a deep knowledge about the parcels used to produce this wine. Parcels should be understood as micro units from a soil and a landscape of homogeneous characteristics.
- Fruit, floral or mineral aromas should be prominent in the wine instead of those coming from its eventual oak aging (chocolate, coffee, smoke, vanilla) which should be absent or almost imperceptible.
- Study about the topic in Terroir in Focus!