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« Back at BRIX, Exploring Europe's Legacy in South America | Main | Recap: 2nd Wine Discovery Class - Wine Maker Influence »

Recap: Wine Discovery Week 3: Terroir

Monday night marked the 3rd week in our Wine Discovery series at Levity. We had a few newcomers join us for the class last night, adding to what has been a great group of wine enthusiasts. Our class last night focused on terroir.

Terroir is the French term for soil. In the vineyard, it encompasses soil type and geographic factors which may influence the quality of wine. The philosophy of terroir holds that where a wine is grown is of paramount importance when determining the quality of a wine, moreso than the winemaker or winery that produced it. While this viewpoint is hotly debated, it cannot be completely discounted, as wines from certain regions (Chablis, Barolo, Burgundy, etc.) have characteristics that simply cannot be replicated elsewhere, despite the best efforts and intentions of winemakers.

What exactly it is that makes good wine is debatable, but to some extent all quality wines result from a combination of good winemaking and good grapes. However, with that being said, it should be recognized that in some cases, the best style of winemaking is to simply guide the grapes from the vineyard to the bottle, with as little intervention as possible. When wines are overly manipulated, the inherent character of the grape and the region are lost, leaving us with wines with a homogenous flavor profile, and a lack of geographic identity. I'm not opposed to modern winemaking techniques, or the judicious use of oak, but I want my wines to display a sense of place.

On Monday, we explored terroir by tasting through the following line-up of wines:

I feel that Sauvignon Blanc aptly demonstrates the effect that climate and terroir can have on a wine. Sauvignon Blanc is grown all over the world, but originates in Bordeaux. The stylistic variations that exist between Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, California, New Zealand, Bordeaux, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and Italy are markedly pronounced, and can only fully be accounted for if one accepts that climate and terroir do influence the character of a wine.

The two Sauvignon Blancs that we sampled on Monday were subjected to very similar winemaking techniques, yet the difference in taste between the two wines was remarkable. The Craggy Range "Te Muna Road" Sauvignon Blanc was intense, aggressive, and herbaceous, with notes of lemongrass, gooseberry, and lime. Meanwhile, the Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc had a much rounder mouthfeel, and emphasized citrus flavors on the nose, with just a hint of herbaceous character in the finish.

Our exploration of terroir continued with a tasting of Cabernet Franc from Saumur-Champigny, in the Loire Valley, and then concluded with a compartive tasting of two Malbecs. Our first Malbec, the Chateau St. Didier-Parnac, was a terroir-driven expression of Malbec, from the grape's ancestral home of France's Cahors appelation. The second Malbec, the "Signature" Malbec from Susana Balbo, of Mendoza, Argentina, was an example of the international style of the grape. A beautifully made wine, it was aged for 13 months in 80% new French oak and 20% used French oak. The use of oak was evident, but it was well integrated, showing notes of vanilla and silky, dark fruit.

There are 3 weeks remaining in our Wine Discovery course, and the remaining weeks will focus on an introduction to the wines of France next week, an introduction to the wines of Italy on November 19th, and a celebratory review class on November 26th. 

  • Week 4, 11/12/12, "France" - Introduction to the wines of France
  • Week 5, 11/19/12, "Italy" - Introduction to the wines of Italy
  • Week 6, 11/26/12, "Champagne and Final Class Celebration" - Champagne and class review
Hope to see you at one of these upcoming classes! Remember, all classes are $20, and there are discounts available if you sign up for multiple classes at once. Cheers!

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