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

What are "nodes" in reference to wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what a "node" is, both in the vineyard and, more …

Feb 24, 2020

For a dinner party, is it better to serve one bottle of lots of wines, or lots of bottles of a few wines?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for being the designated wine supplier at a …

Feb 21, 2020

Why would a bottle of red wine bubble over like a bottle of Champagne? Was it flawed?

Wine Spectator 's expert Dr. Vinny explains how a flawed bottle of still wine can end up as …

Feb 19, 2020

Why don't Italian wines have a standard, traditional bottle shape?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny calls in the experts to explain where Italy's many bottle …

Feb 17, 2020

Can wine be made from milk?

Wine Spectator 's expert Dr. Vinny explains it is possible to make a fermented, alcoholic …

Feb 14, 2020

Is white wine susceptible to bottle shock?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what bottle shock, or travel shock, is, and …

Feb 12, 2020




Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search