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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm Dermot Nolan, and I became a Master of Wine (MW) in 1997, and resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2023 after being an MW for exactly 26 years. I opened a wine shop in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library, which closed in 2018, and this is my personal wine blog. I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. I was a Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events Committee, founder of the Trips Committee, and member of the Governance Committee. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Terroir - some thoughts

According to Decanter.com "A new study of the Beaujolais terroir has just been authorised in order to create the first ever classification." What is this terroir thing? You will have come across this term before and, no doubt, have heard or read definitions of it. Usually it's defined as some loose combination of grape, soil, climate and winemaker which gives to a wine its identifiable stamp of origin. Only a wine from a terroir has this, apparently.

Hmmm. I don't buy this at all. For starters, most wines are indelibly stamped by their winemakers and not much else. "Ah yes, but zat is becauz zey ar not terroir wines!" I hear Peter Sellers say. Hmmm, how is it, then, that two burgundies from the same vineyard and vintage can often taste very different? Don't they share the same terroir? If you scratch a French man deeply enough he'll use the terms terroir and soil interchangeably, thereby moving goalposts so much that you can't win the debate!
In another article on Decanter.com, oenologist Stéphane Derenoncour said, of climate change: 'French wines, elegant and refined, the jewels of our common national heritage, are in danger. Climate change is rendering our vineyards ever more vulnerable. Summer heat waves, recent hail storms in the Bordeaux region, new diseases arriving from the South, such irregularities will soon become far worse still. If nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gases, vineyards will be displaced 1,000km beyond their traditional borders between now and the end of the century. Terroirs will not survive." (My bolded italics). Terroirs will not survive? But that's nonsense if terroir simply means the combination of local conditions, grapes and good wine making - all that will happen is that the terroir will change and different wines will result.
I can state, pretty categorically, that many wines from all over the world have clearly identifiable origin characteristics (if they didn't, passing the MW exam would either be dead easy or extremely difficult - I'm not sure which LOL) and, for me, the whole concept of terroir is a typically French philosophical construct designed to make them appear to be the great and good of the wine world. Which they are not. By any means. By a very long mile, never mind kilometre.
Yet, there are superb wines produced in France, right beside some bloody awful muck - Burgundy is a good place to look. Yes, Chambertin is a vineyard which produces great wines but there are those which bad and I have seen vines submerged in water in the same Grand Cru vineyard after a hard night's rainfall. Where's the terroir in that?
Does Beaujolais need more terroirs? No - France is already awash with AOCs that even experts have never heard of and that the self-same experts cannot easily distinguish from each other. Now, if the surveys mentioned are simply trying to determine best sites and vineyards, well that's one thing, but if it leads to a Burgundy-style Premier and Grand Cru vineyard scheme then that's just one more complex nail in the coffin of French wine sales.
Wouldn't it be better to have a simple offer (which is what Beaujolais already has) rather than complicating issues? It's great to know what soils exist in a region and, from an oenologist's or viticulturalist's point of view, this is important but does it really matter in terms of marketing?
Anyway, I just needed to rant and this seemed like a good topic. Bye bye.

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