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Terroir Is a Sticking Point in France's Cola Wars

The fine wine set's most controversial vocabulary word is crossing over into the mainstream
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jul 30, 2013 5:00pm ET

A lay person could be forgiven for thinking a group of vintners and enophiles talking shop were speaking another language. In many ways, they are—the American winespeak vernacular draws on words rooted in many foreign tongues, predominantly French. But some of our idiomatic terms are occasionally adopted by the general populace.

"Vintage" might be the most prominent example. Collectibles of every ilk are now referred to by aficionados as "vintage," from cars to clothes. Sportscasters regularly call a veteran ballplayer's banner day a "vintage performance."

Thanks to a bubbling battle of Paris cola drinkers and the Wall Street Journal, "terroir" could be the unlikely next wine term to make the leap into the mainstream.

Terroir, or a wine's expression of "place"—soil, climate and topography—is bantered about aplenty in the wine world. In some circles, a wine's expression of terroir is the ultimate defining factor in its quality. But it's a term I least expected to work its way into common usage.

There's a cola war afoot in Paris. Two brands, Paris Cola and Parisgo Cola, are launching at the same time. As reported in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, the two brands are similarly packaged, with a red cap and label that features the Eiffel Tower; both claim to represent the spirit of Paris.

The perception of authenticity is at the heart of the competition, with cola brands across France citing unique terroir. The Journal reports there are as many as 30 regional colas in France, a product of "the terroir effect." The terroir being drawn from the cola's water source, the local beets from which the cola's sugar is derived, and various other local flavorings.

If there's any question as to whether the term terroir might resonate with an American audience, consider the Journal's front-page headline: "Terroir War: Good Nose, Local Beets? Must be a 2013 Paris Cola"

Could terroir catch on as a selling point for regional specialites in the States? There's an undeniable sense of place to a San Francisco sourdough or a New York bagel … America's own terroir wars might be just around the corner.

Dorian Patchin
Bethesda, MD —  July 30, 2013 10:03pm ET
Hey - folks have been talking about terroir forever. Including you all. I'm sure if I did a text search for the word "terroir" within Spectator articles I'd get a plethora of hits. Maybe even every major story you all have ever written.

Isn't that why Bordeaux and Napa (and specific appellations within) so fiercely fight when others try to lay illegitimate claims? And also why wine makers from all over the world are trying to market their particular specific locale?

Seems kind of ridiculous to think this word isn't already in circulation. Every wine nerd (or even wanna be's) already uses it and then some.

My two cents.

How about reviewing more wines - even wines that wineries don't send to you! Sometimes it would be nice to see reviews of popular Cali wines that have stopped sending you free wine because they didn't like previous reviews. Do you all ever go out and buy those wines and review them anyway? FYI - in general I appreciate the reviews - i just find the depth lacking in some cases.
James Laube
Napa —  July 31, 2013 12:57pm ET
Dorian, as to first comment, talk of terroir outside wine is fairly new, at least to me. As to second, we do buy many wines, likely more than any other publication.
Michael Ashley
Cleveland, OH —  August 1, 2013 6:22pm ET
Thanks James for all you do but not to get too far off topic on Dorian's comments. I don't think its about "more" I think its about "popular". We understand that you only have so many hours in the day to test wines for us but I think the sentiment is we would like to see more wines rated that we are use to seeing in our local wine stores. Reviewing so many Napa Cabs with 50 or 100 cases just targets a very small group of readers but giving us better coverage on wines we see on our local shelves would be appreciated. They're fun to read about but not very practical to stock up my cooler. I know its a balancing act to please a wide range of readers and appreciate all you do. btw I agree I don't hear the word "terroir" used much outside of wine but maybe its just us buckeyes who haven't caught up! OH-IO.
James Laube
Napa —  August 1, 2013 6:30pm ET
Thanx, Michael...we think about cases daily and make many decisions on availability! The distribution system is challenging...markets vary with vintages...and in the case of California, we have a very large readership here which tends toward the locals and not European wines. Opposite on the East Coast. Appreciate your thoughts.
Dave Reuther
Deerfield, Illinois —  August 2, 2013 4:24pm ET
James, any chance the WS reviews could indicate whether the wine was submitted or purchased? Also in your blind tasting do you know whether the wine was purchased or not? When WS purchases a wine, is it from a normal retail outlet or some other source? Thanks for any information you can provide.
James Laube
Napa —  August 2, 2013 4:48pm ET
Dave, no and no...there's limit to what we can track. All of this is time consuming. Buying a wine is the same situation we all face anytime we order a bottle. On occasions where we buy a wine and it's spoiled or corked, we seek a replacement.
Jordan Feldman
Baltimore, MD —  August 4, 2013 1:55pm ET
I think we are ready for a new Cali cult wine: The Terroirist...Hopefully it won't be a fruit bomb!
Tim Mc Donald
Napa, CA USA —  August 5, 2013 5:16pm ET
Geez guys, I thought the subject was about what I like to call "somewhereness" or terroir, (thank you Matt). On the other subject, I believe that WS does a pretty decent job selecting/reviewing the wines that people like to try out or are already buying. The Wine Spectator reviews wines from 10 bucks to the luxury stuff that is so hard to find. WS covers a lot of countries and a lot of types and styles...but back to the blog topic. I do not feel that the word terroir is likely to be mainstream any time in the near future, because of one reason- no one can agree on what it means and what it contributes. Just like the word vintage it is a blurry concept. And add on to that, the simple fact that blending happens in the cellar not the vineyard. Cheers!
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  August 5, 2013 11:36pm ET
Oh, I can't wait... pretty sure it'll be popularized in the following way: "Ya, I feel like this Bubblicious has, like, totally awesome terroir right now" LOL
Michael Henderson
San Francisco —  August 7, 2013 5:44pm ET
Living within 20 miles of Napa I have little interest in reviews of Napa Cabs that have very small production or astronomical prices. $500, $600 even $800 a bottle? What % of WS readership buys those? 50 cases x 12 bottles, 600 subscribers at best.
William Thomen
San Francisco —  August 7, 2013 6:41pm ET
Michael - In all fairness to the WS, they review everything from Harlan to Yellow Tail. I buy both and appreciate the breadth of coverage offered.

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