Terroir – Image: Wanderlust Leah
Love for Wine
I LOVE wine. On so many different levels and for so many different reasons. From the complexity and depth that one glass can hold to the elegant and picturesque mood that a bottle, 2 glasses and good company can bring. But the thing that I love the most is the ability that wine has to express where it came from. I know that many people out there laugh at this concept and think that it’s just an idea that wine snobs like to talk about to seem more sophisticated. Believe what you want, but once you taste the difference between a French wine and an Argentine wine, you’ll be hooked, too.
Terroir. A concept that the environment, soil, and farming practices influence the final product. To some extent, it can’t be argued. More delicate grapes like Pinot Noir won’t grow in areas with harsh winters or summers. The skin is just too thin to be able to withstand intense heat or freezing cold weather.
Many wine makers consider wine making to be both an art and science. They constantly tweak their harvesting processes, what grapes they plant, how to maintain the soil, and which grapes to blend into the finished product. But can you actually taste the difference? I absolutely think yes. You just might think so, too! Test it our for yourself. And here is how you can.
Image: Podere Ciona
Wine Making Process
First, a little background on how wine is made. This will give you a better picture of what all goes into making a bottle of wine and how the terroir comes about.
To start, you obviously need to grow some grapes. The process of choosing where to grow them, what grapes to grow, how many to grow, etc. requires a lot of thinking and consideration. After that you need to harvest your grapes. Are you going to handpick them? Use a machine? When are you going to harvest? Harvesting early might produce a lighter wine while harvesting later might make your wine a little sweeter.
Next is the fermentation process. The first question is, what to do with the skins? Typically, white wines (produced from white grapes like Chardonnay) will have their skins removed. Red wines will ferment with the skin in tact (giving them a more potent and richer flavor). Rosé is made from red grapes, but produced like a white wine so the skin is removed. To ferment your grapes, you will need to add some yeast. The yeast converts the sugars into alcohol. Another point where decisions need to be made. What kind of yeast? How much? How long will you allow the wine to ferment?
After the first fermentation period, the wine is pressed to extract the juice and remove the skins. Then they can go through malolactic fermentation (bacteria will take the malic acid produced by the yeast and convert it to lactic acid). Lactic acid is much softer and drinkable. During this point, the wine is transferred to barrels (oak, stainless steel… more decisions) to age before it is finally put into a bottle and corked.
This is a very oversimplified summary of what actually goes on. But hopefully now you have a better idea of how a grape becomes wine.
See the Difference Yourself!
Image: The Viva Luxury
I am so confident that you will be able to taste the difference in terroir … and then eventually the difference between a California wine, French wine and Spanish wine! Like anything in life, it just takes practice. And seriously, what a fun thing to practice… drinking wine!
Start off simple. First, take a look at the wine. Obviously you will be able to tell the difference between a red and a white. But maybe start noticing different shades of red. Just notice if it is a lighter shade where you might be able to see through it a little bit. Or a darker shade that is almost a purple/black color with no transparency at all. Lighter in color typically translates to lighter in flavor and tannins, like a Pinot Noir. Darker wines are usually more bold and potent, like a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Next, smell. Does it have a strong smell? Does it smell fruity and sweet or bitter and harsh? At first all wine might smell the same. But do some side-by-side comparisons to smell the difference. Once you start to notice the difference between fruity or bitter, you can dive deeper and start to pick out specific smells that terroir can influence like vanilla or blackberry.
Now, taste it!
Is it sweet or dry (not sweet)? Does it have a strong alcohol flavor? Does it have a bitter or drying sensation throughout your mouth (that’s the antioxidants, also called ‘tannins’)?
Start off simple with the way you see, smell and taste the wine. I would even suggest a wine journal if you really want to get good at it! Eventually, you will start to pick up on more and more things and eventually start to be able to tell the difference in regions of the world.
I have just accumulated my wine knowledge by visiting vineyards, wine tasting, reading up on wines, taking wine courses, and working at wine bars. There really is so much to know and so much that goes into it. Wine is an integral part of so many cultures around the world, so it really fascinates me.
Try it out
One of my go-to wineries is Wente Vineyards. Wente is a winery in Livermore Valley, California. They have a couple of different vineyards and have their wines available for purchase in most grocery stores. If you are looking for a good quality wine that isn’t too expensive, definitely try their wines. If you are looking to get better at distinguishing different red varietals, try their Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon and compare it to the Riva Ranch Pinot Noir. Looking for some practice with your whites? Compare the Riva Ranch Chardonnay to Louis Mel Sauvingnon Blanc.