Can We Taste Terroir?

You bet we can, says a new study from Italy
Feb 17, 2017

Scientists in Italy tested the notion that wines from different regions can be distinguished solely by their aromatics. Turns out that yes, they can. Experienced wine hands may say "duh" to this news, but according to the study, published in December, this is the first time scientists double-checked it with technology in a laboratory setting.

Not only that, but novices could make the distinctions just as well as professionals.

Francesco Foroni, a researcher who focuses on social psychology, emotion and cognitive science at Australian Catholic University in Strathfield, Australia, and SISSA in Trieste, Italy, led the team behind "The smell of terroir! Olfactory discrimination between wines of different grape variety and different terroir." The SISSA lab used an olfactometer, a device that controls exactly how much of an aroma gets to a subject's nose, to put all the tasters—er, smellers—on a level playing field.

They put participants through their paces, running them through 96 pairs of Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons from two relatively obscure northeastern Italian regions 15 miles apart: Colli Berici, south of Vicenzo, and Colli Euganei, south of Padova. Sometimes the pairs were identical, other times different in variety or where they were grown.

The 32 panelists got it right significantly more often than random chance. They found different terroirs more often than distinctions between varietals. The hit rate was best when both the region and varietal were different.

I heard about this study from a snarky article in the U.K.-based Daily Mail, headlined, "Sour grapes as 12 wine professionals are humbled by 20 novices in a 'spot the difference' blind sniff test." It gleefully noted that the pros fared no better than the amateurs.

Actually, that's good news. The result that novices did just as well as professionals underlines the point that even an untrained palate can tell differences in both terroir and varietal.

Olfactory scientists I interviewed early on in my career as a wine and food writer taught me that we all have roughly the same basic sensory equipment, although professionals have more experience and can describe aromas and flavors with a more precise vocabulary. As I've said many times talking to non-professionals, trust your palate, even if you can't put it into words.

 

Opinion

You Might Also Like

The Wine World, On Balance

The Wine World, On Balance

Historic producers, new faces, limited bottlings, widely available options: All contribute …

May 31, 2022
No, Your Wine Is Not Packed with Sugar

No, Your Wine Is Not Packed with Sugar

A U.K. anti-alcohol group cries out that wine is full of sugar and calories, but their …

Mar 1, 2022
Charles Smith Revisited

Charles Smith Revisited

The Washington vintner hopes his story of facing health challenges head-on will inspire …

Mar 31, 2022
Wines With Real Bouquet

Wines With Real Bouquet

Making wine from fermented flowers has a deep history around the world

Mar 31, 2022
It’s Time for Wine to Wake Up

It’s Time for Wine to Wake Up

Where are affordable wines geared toward younger consumers? Most wineries aren't making them

Feb 4, 2022
Rethinking Hefty Bottles

Rethinking Hefty Bottles

In the past 40 years, the average wine bottle has doubled in weight, but that's not better …

Feb 28, 2022