Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Terroir and it's expressions

True expression of terroir, this seems to be one of the overriding goals of modern wine makers. Everywhere I go I hear people extolling it as the virtue towards which they strive. But what really enables people to percieve the subtle and miniscule differences between vineyards and between years.
Well I'm going to make a contreversial suggestion; a level playing field.
Australian and new world winemakers making their first forays into the Rhone valley were renowned for dismissing everything they tasted as being smothered by brett. The locals to whom a small amount of brett was pretty normal found this odd as they could see beyond it.
Afficianados of natural wines claim that their no sulphur wines with their oxidative notes slightly variable levels of volatility are truer expressions of the places where they're grown.
Wine makers in California trumpet the exact block of the vineyard despite leaving the vines to hang till the point of partial raisination and then use 100% new oak to fill out the gaps in the palette.
Who's right and who's fooling themselves? I'm going to contend that both and neither are. I think our palettes grow to disregard certain ever present influences and tastes, jut look at the way even the est chefs can develop a tolerance for salt in their food, leading what they regard to be a perfectly seasoned dish to taste excessively salty to someone else.
For abstract elements of terroir to really be percieved, you have to have a contineuom of winemaking style. Do you relly think that when the Burgundian vineyards were being mapped out by the Cistercian monks there was much diversity in winemaking, yep, it was almost certainly across the board rubbish, but at least each clos' wine was being ruined in the same ways.
The mid 20th century Bordeaux wines were all (with a few exceptions) being made to a certain formula, this allowed a generation of wine merchants and writers to learn the intricacies of the different communes. Now try to explain the relative merits of Margaux and St Julien when you've got Chateau Lascombes and Langoa Barton as your examples, one that's happy to show a refined and elegent frontage, the other that has been taking almost as many steroids as your average tour de france cyclist (not wanting to disparage Lascombes which I like a lot, but it doesn't half muddy the water in a comparison).
Does tasting Clos de Coulee de Serrant give a person any sort of idea about what the terroir is capable of. Yes and no, it's such a distinctive wine that I've seen people taste it and mistake a hell of a lot of the winemaking (or lack therof) influence as being related to the terroir. Show these same people any number of natural or minimal intervention wines (again many of which I love) and the inference will be that they show an incredible transparancy of terroir. The don't. No more than any wine made carefully with minimal sulphur, maximum hygene, stainless steel and a focus on truly reflecting the fruit character of the vineyards. Take a comparative tasting of the single block wines from St Claire in New Zealand if you want proof.
So now can people stop banging the drum about how their particular niche of winemaking preference is truer, and admit that whatever latent luddite sympathies might be informing their decisions are all well and good, at least as well and good as whatever avaricious inclinations drive people to 100% new high toast oak in persuit of high points.
The world is quite large enough to old both camps, and I for wine am quite happy to bob along in the middle enjoying the fruits of whatever they might produce.

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