July 18, 2010

A Moment in the Dirt

A result of the rapid and simultaneous conclusion of several DIRT SEARCH investigations at the Lab's Farewell to Los Angeles gala, we've had quite a bit to say about terroir recently.

So I thought it might be worth jotting down a few quick notes on the subject.

Terroir isn't like pornography. You don't always know it when you see it. It's not the minerality. It's not the earthy smell. At least, not always. And drinking different wines from the same and adjoining vineyards only solves a part of the mystery. Because you need to taste longitudinally too; you have to drink the same wine over a span of vintages to really understand that ethereal combination of grape, soil, weather and wine-maker.

You also have to drink other wines from the neighborhood. And wines from across town. Because to understand the specificity of a vineyard, you need to need a good handle on the generality of the grape as well.

If it were possible to produce a neutral example of Pinot Noir or Riesling or any grape, you could start with a "fruit baseline". Then you could compare your baseline to site specific wines. And the divergence would be vineyard, climate, viticulture (terroir) and... manipulation (not terroir). But there's no such mythical grape. So learning to recognize terroir requires a lot of experience. And Dirt Search experiments are a good way to gain it. So is drinking with people who have a lot of their own experience. So is drinking un-manipulated wines -- which helps you learn how to spot wines that are manipulated, as some call them: spoofulated.

But, in the end, why should terroir be this Holy Grail of booze consumption? Why should we work so hard to figure it out? And what do we get if we do?

All fair questions.

And the answer is further complicated by the fact that most people who talk about it don't actually know what it is.

So why should we bother with terroir?

For me, I guess I just love the idea of a moment in time trapped in a bottle. It's romantic, sure. And like all romantic ideas, it's a little bit silly. But the search for that mystical trinity of vineyard, climate and wine-maker, all captured in a single vintage and bottled for safe-keeping seems to me something worth looking for.

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