What exactly does it mean that a wine can express "terroir"? Is it a smell? A taste?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

What exactly does it mean that a wine can express "terroir"? Is it a smell? A taste?

—Anderson, Toronto

Dear Anderson,

Terroir is a French term that translates loosely as “a sense of place,” and is derived from the French word for earth, "terre." The concept is that wine is capable of expressing the interaction of the grapes with soil, climate, topography and even the bacteria and microbes in a specific site, allowing a wine to be uniquely distinct and reflective of where the grapes were grown. Terroir encapsulates the idea that a Pinot Noir from Burgundy will and should taste differently from one made in Argentina or New Zealand. And it's not just exclusive to wine—the term is frequently applied to things like coffee, tea and cheese as well.

Terroir is not expressed in a single flavor or aroma, but there might be a note that reminds you of where a wine is from. For example, if I have two glasses of Chardonnay side by side, I’d expect the one from Chablis to have a lighter body and a minerally saline note, while the glass from Sonoma Coast might have more richness and concentration.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny Tasting Descriptors

More In Dr. Vinny

Do corks made from oak bark add any oak flavors to wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the research on this interesting topic, and what …

Sep 18, 2019

What’s the best way to clean mold from a bottle of wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how to clean mold—and how not to.

Sep 16, 2019

What does “Winemaker’s Lot” mean on a wine label?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how undefined terms are used to sell wine.

Sep 13, 2019

What does it mean if a wine was “cold fermented”?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how temperature can impact the results of a wine …

Sep 11, 2019

Can a wine aged using oak chips age as well as a wine aged in actual oak barrels?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the pros and cons of oak chips in lieu of oak …

Sep 9, 2019

What does “vin sec” mean on a Riesling wine label?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the meaning of "vin sec" and why it's helpful on …

Sep 6, 2019
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search