Terr-what? Our thoughts exactly!
Simply put, terroir (pronounced ‘ter-wahr’), is the reason why Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France tastes different than Pinot Noir from Oregon.
Like many wine terms, terroir has French origins. Although there is no literal English translation, it generally means “a sense of place.” Poetic, right? This refers to all of the unique natural elements – temperature, climate, soil, sun exposure, topography – that come together in the vineyard to produce a wine that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.
Monks: O.G. Terroir Experts
The Cistercian and Benedictine monks who originally settled in Burgundy, France, were some of the first grape growers to observe the influence of terroir and its effect on wine. These O.G. wine connoisseurs drank a lot of vino and were rumored to have even eaten some soil when they began documenting their findings.
Noting that different parcels of land had unique characteristics and effects on the resulting wine, the monks decided to divide and conquer. Literally. They became vast landowners in Burgundy and beyond, ultimately creating the framework for some of France’s appellations and vineyards that still exist today.
What’s Old is New?
Terroir is largely associated with France. (They did invent the word, after all!) Can other Old World and New World wines also exhibit terroir? This is up for debate, and many in the industry have differing opinions.
Some say terroir is a characteristic that belongs to France and only France. Others argue terroir can be exhibited in a New World wine from a region with unique soils, conditions and elements that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.
Does it really matter?
To a worldly collector of fine, expensive wines, probably. To someone who just wants to enjoy a glass of wine while watching the latest season of The Bachelorette, probably not.
Either way, next time you drink that Pinot – New World or Old – see if you can taste that “sense of place” in your glass. Is it terroir that draws you in, or something else?