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Terroir, Unaltered

Terroir. Sense of place exhibited by the wine. You can find definition of Terroir in Wikipedia, but interestingly enough, you can’t find it in Webster dictionary.

“Terroir” was always part of the winemaking, in transparent fashion, if you will. Wine was initially (we are talking thousands years ago) produced locally, to be consumed with local food. There was a traditional way of making the wine in each place, and it was repeated over and over, harvesting the same grapes from the same parcel of land. Even today you can find plenty of wines made for local consumption only, challenge is – you have to be “there” to taste them.

Needless to say that wine in those old days was made in “natural” and “organic” way, as it was the only way possible (no pesticides, no chemicals, no reverse osmosis machines, no oak dust, …). Then situation changed. While wine trade exists for thousands years, I would guess that extreme commercialization of it, which happened in the second half of the 20th century, and appearance of wine critics such as Robert Parker, forced a lot of change in the way the wine was produced. As for vast majority of commercial products, producer usually wants to limit the cost and maximize profits – when this principle is applied to wine production, we end up with a lot of wines which have no “terroir” concept whatsoever, and simply made to have a “familiar”, or “category required” taste. And as it is a commercial product, all means are good to guarantee an output and a profit (without going into any details, that includes all the stuff which you don’t want in or around your wine).

Luckily, the situation is changing. More and more wineries and winemakers are going back to the nature, and let terroir shine again, in its unadulterated form. Call it “organic”, “natural”, “sustainable” or “biodynamic” (each term has it’s own meaning and even philosophy behind it, but I have to refer you to Wikipedia to read more about it or we will never finish this post), but the main idea is similar among them all – interfere as little as possible, and let nature take its course. This is happening throughout the world, and in many cases is not even advertised on the bottle. For instance, Domaine Romanee-Conti, makers of some of the most famous (and expensive) wines in the world, are using organic farming and since 1985, and I’m sure there are lots of others which are simply doing it without much fanfare.

Sustainable, organic and natural are all very important, but there is more which goes into the winemaking process to let terroir to be the king. A lot of it goes back to that “do not interfere” concept. For instance, you can use 600 liter new oak barrels to age your wines, or you can use and reuse 15000 liter barrels. Which wine do you think will better showcase the terroir? Of course the bigger barrel will impart much much less oak flavor, and will let the grapes and soil to tell its story in a clear voice.

Okay, enough of this abstract talking, let’s talk about actual wines. I have to tell you that it was a seminar on Natural and Biodynamic wines, hosted by nobody else but PJ Wine, which prompted this post. This event was definitely both an education and experience, as all 10 wines presented in the seminar were not your average wines. To give you an idea, if you think about organic food, in many cases you only know that you are eating something which is healthier, better for you, but you can’t really taste it (if you are sure you can, I would love to play a blind tasting game with you). Talking about wines in that tasting, eight out of ten wines tasted totally different and unique – you can not necessarily tell that they are organic or natural, but you can tell that they can be distinguished from anything else you had before. These wines were made with “don’t interfere” concept in mind, letting the terroir to shine through. Another interesting fact about all the wines presented is none of them has alcohol level in excess of 13%, most of them are 11% or 12% – there were no jammy fruit bombs presented in the tasting (luckily!).

For what it worth, here are my notes, in the order the wines were presented.

Font I Jordana “Reserva” Penedes Cava NV – Interesting nose, with some yeastiness, full bodied. Very little amount of bubbles, almost none. Good acidity. Very refreshing due to the mouthwatering acidity. Good summer wine, but it is hard to call it a “sparkling wine”.

Jean Paul Dubost Gamayleon Rose Sparkling NV – Very unusual nose, almost off with  some spoiled food smell, like spoiled strawberries. On the palate – honeysuckle, in its purest form, very small amount of bubbles, if any, good mouthwatering acidity.

Frank Cornelissen Susucaru 3 Vino Da Tavola Rosato NV -Very interesting wine. Nose similar to Beaujolais Noveau, reminiscent of freshly pressed grapes. You can literally smell volcanic soil. Nose is perfumed with fresh soap aromas. Very unusual flavor profile – no strawberries (which is a typical component in many rose wine descriptions). Soap also comes as part of the aftertaste. Very herbal, with may be thyme being most prominent.

2009 Jean-Paul Dubost Beaujolais Villages “Tracot” –Very sweet nose. Big contrast between the nose and the palate, as plate is much drier, but overall there are pronounced raspberries, first on the nose, and then after dry start, the same on the palate. The wine just disappears in your mouth, doesn’t have any bottom – it is more juice than it is a wine.

2006 Jean Bourdy Cotes Du Jura Rouge – very interesting wine. Kitchen spice cabinet, like some nice rub, on the nose. Very good tannins, very nice and restrained overall on the palate, with some dry dill notes. Doesn’t show any age at all (and it is 5 years old). It appears that wines of Jean Bourdy are known to age very well (note to self). One of my favorites in the tasting.

2007 Italo Pietrantoj Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – The most unimpressive in the tasting so far. This is the case when I know it is good for me, as I’m told it is made differently, but can’t taste it at all. This wine actually was aged in 15,000 liter barrels for 2 years – but it is impossible to pick it up. It might be a food wine.

2009 Reunion Malbec Mendoza – Very grapey. Has some foundation, and some balanced fruit. Easy to drink, but not impressive at all.

2007 Le Pavillon de Saint Jacques Lalande de Pomerol –Very interesting. Smells like dirt, pure dirt after the rain. Very vegetative, no fruit on the palate, just pure dirt again. Almost no acidity. This wine was fermented in concrete tanks, aged for 18 month. It is “certified organic” and made with 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc – classic Pomerol wine. I would love to taste it in 10-15 years – I think it will greatly evolve, but it is not easy to say ” I like it” now.

1996 Bodegas Las Orcas “Solar de Randez” Rioja –Classic Rioja on the nose. Beautiful, with limited fruit expression, but very balanced. I guess this is how Rioja was in the old times. This is Reserva level Rioja. One of the best in the tasting.

2009 Jean Pierre Robinot Concerto d’Oniss Pineau d’Aunis -Loire valley wine. Beautiful fruit, rose petals on the nose, funky. Beautiful palate, somewhat reminiscent of Beaujolais, but with more substance and good acidity. Best in the tasting.

I just realized that many of the descriptions above start with the words”very interesting” – these wines are truly interesting, they are all telling their own stories. These wines are letting the terroir to shine through. I might not be able to understand all their stories yet, but this is great, as we there is more to learn. You don’t have to try them all, but make an effort, find and try some of them  – you might discover a whole new wine world. Happy learning! Cheers!

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