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?
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.