Terroir, pronounced “tare-wahr,” is a winemaking term that refers to the ways in which the climate, terrain, and soil of a specific region affect the flavor of the grapes grown there.
This term has been used in different ways over the years. While it used to refer to anomalous conditions in particular production regions, such as the growth of wild yeast that could affect the product’s flavor, it is now commonly understood to conform to the definition above and is used to describe almost every wine-growing region in earth. In order to understand how terroir impacts the products of various wineries and regions, it’s necessary to break down its main components.
Wine grapes are grown in two broad categories of climate: warm, and cool. The climate has a direct impact on flavor, with cool climates tending to produce grapes with less sugar and acidity than their warmer-climate counterparts. The higher sugar content in warm climate vintages feeds the bacteria that cause the fermentation process, leading to higher alcohol contents. Warmer climates also tend to produce wines with less natural acidity than those from cooler regions.
The terrain of a region is relevant to wine production partly because of its relationship to altitude. Where grapes are grown on mountainsides, they tend to produce wines with greater acidity as a result of the location’s cooler temperatures, particularly during nighttime. Other geographic features such as lakes, valleys, and distance from a coast can affect the taste of vintages produced in a given region, as can the presence of other plants or trees in the surrounding area.
The composition of the soil where a vineyard is located can vary tremendously from one region to another. While hundreds of soil types exist, there are about six major profiles of soil in which wine grapes are grown. There is currently no scientific evidence of a direct link between the minerals found in a vineyard’s soil and the mineral taste present in its vintages, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence. For example, South Africa’s wines, often described as “gravely” or “concrete-like,” are grown in soil that contains large amounts of 50-million-year-old granite.
Terroir can sometimes include the concept of winemaking tradition, if it’s used to describe a region where particular viniculture practices have been used over long periods of time. This is because these longstanding traditions are usually dictated at least in part by the other three factors encompassed by terroir: climate, terrain, and soil.
To learn more about famous wine regions and how terroir influences their products, this creative infographic will definitely help!