There’s this fancy pants word in the wine world and no, it’s not “spats.” It’s terroir. Anyone who uses the word terroir is quick to mention that it is A: French, B: Untranslatable, and C: Has no specific meaning. Near as I can tell terroir is defined as “a sense of place” which is about as specific as referring to a woman as a “living thing with a vagina.”
But the blowback from the descriptor “a sense of place” is that many wine-reviewing douche bags have come to decide that this means the sense of a specific place in the world and therefore any wine that is not 100% from a specific place lacks any “sense of place.” I’ve even read reviews from wine writers who decried a wine for lacking even 10% fruit from one particular location. Asinine.
What, after all, is a place? Sure it can be a place in geography but it can also be a place in time, a place in thought, a place in emotion. It can be a place in an individual’s mental index that is irrespective of any geographic grape growing location. I’ve had Sauvignon Blancs from many different geographic places in the world that all smell like very specific cat pee. That’s evocative. That’s terroir.
Terroir is a tasty wine with friends in a dive in Tuscany. Terroir is a juicy red blend you had with dinner after a marathon day of Sonoma wine tasting. Terroir is a cheap Champagne toast to a friend after she completed her Ph. D. Terroir, despite its French pretension, I would argue is not specifically about geography. Terroir is about all that a wine stimulates in the senses in any specific place and time.
In this way, wines made from a blend of fruit from disparate regions can be a terroir-driven wine, while at the same time some shitty over-oaked 100% Napa Chardonnay can be a shit box stored in a feces locker. Terroir is a mental space–it is that sip of Rheingau Riesling or it’s that gulp of Vin de Pays. Chances are if you had sex in the Rheingau or you had sex all over France, your association with either wine would be similar.
I won’t argue and say that different wine-growing regions don’t have specific grape characteristics, but I will argue that the quality of a wine is uniquely defined by that in all cases. The wine world is too full of multi-region blends that kick the latex ass-less pants off of 100% regional varietal wines.
So what are your terroirs? What are the “senses of place” that drive your taste buds? Hot dogs at a high school picnic? The perfumed lotion of an early girlfriend? The smell of your dad’s pickup truck on a summer day? If the structures of a wine give you evocative pleasure, that wine is expressive of terroir, regardless of its literal make-up.
It’s no fluke that terroir-driven wines are most evocative for the consumer who has traveled in the mentioned wine’s terroir. Because it’s not merely taste that defines the term, it’s taste synthesized with experience.
If I wanted to taste a specific place, I’ll go there and lick the dirt myself. I want to taste good wines.