Monday, November 19, 2012

The Myth of Terroir

For winegeeks, there's nothing more essential to wine than terroir.  ("Terroir" is a French term that essentially translates as the "whatness" of the place the grapes grew, perhaps the intersection of soil, vine, and sun.)  Supposedly, it's what makes a Merlot wine taste different if it's grown on one side of the road as opposed to the other.

This is not a myth.  Grapes do taste different when grown in different soils.  Or in different times or climates or ages or when there are different winemakers involved or the bottles are of different ages and ....  You get the picture.  Wine tastes different all the time.  It's crazy like that.  It's what keeps me coming back.

But what I think a lot of winegeeks miss is the fact that our lives are full of subjectivity.  In order for something to be, it really needs to be perceived.  Now, I don't want to devolve into some sort of Lockean tabula rasa, but I would suggest that subject is more important than object when it comes to wine.

Could it be that that the where and when I bottle of wine is consumed is actually just as influencing a factor on the perception of the wine as where and when it was grown?

Could it?

OK, probably not.  But could it be more important to the drinker than everything else? 

Why do we allow wine to take such a mystical place in our cultural psyche?  It's a very humble beverage, and in some ages wasn't much more than rotten fruit preserved through alcohol.  And yet it pins our brains to the walls, it hammers our senses and makes us want to speak to the world what we taste.

The concept of terroir is one that places all the power at the source of the vineyard, but the uniqueness of the wine experience is one that vineyard blends can bring about just as much magicality as single-vineyard wines.  Two winemakers making wine from the same vineyard can overrule the expected terroir and produce completely different wines.

I propose that the singularity of wine--the thingness in fermented grapes that makes us speak of it like blithering idiots--is more than just where it comes from.  It's where the bottle ends up, who it ends up with, and why it is consumed.  The connection with the land is only appreciated when it's consumed with friends that build memories.  And memories are the only keys that we have left that we have had a life.  And isn't that what it's all about?

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