What Does Terroir Mean in Wine?

If you want to become a wine expert, you need to familiarise yourself with the key terms involved in wine-making. By becoming fluent in this mysterious language, you can gain a greater understanding of what makes an excellent bottle. Ideal Wine Company asks: what does ‘terroir’ mean in wine?

Over-used term

Terroir is one of the least understood, but most frequently used, words in wine. It was originally used to describe the ‘earthy notes,’ that are commonly found in Old World Wines, produced in regions such as France and Spain. Over time, the meaning of the word terroir has evolved and today it is practically used in connection with every wine-making territory on earth.

Defining terroir

Industry information portal Wine Folly says that ‘terroir’ is used to describe “how a particular region’s climate, soils and aspect (terrain) affect the taste of wine. Some regions are said to have more ‘terroir’ than others.” This definition is still somewhat vague, but Wine Folly then breaks down the four key aspects that are included in ‘terroir,’ which are listed below.

  • Climate: There are two types of climate for wine-making purposes. The first is ‘cool climates,’ which boast the weather conditions needed to produce low-sugar, high-acidity grapes. The second is ‘warm climates,’ which possess the weather conditions required to create grapes with higher sugar and lower acidity levels.
  • Soil: The type of soil, rock and mineral deposits in a vineyard can drastically impact the grapes it produces. For instance South Africa possesses 50 million year old granitic soils. Granite is famous for retaining heat and reducing acidity in grapes with high acidity levels. Therefore, South Africa’s red wines are often described as “graphite-like, gravely and like freshly-wetted concrete,” due to the quality of the region’s soil.
  • Terrain: A region’s wines can be affected by its terrain. This encompasses altitude, as well as the area’s proximity to geological features such as mountains, flora and large bodies of water. The Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina, for example, is famous for its high-quality Malbec red wine grapes. This is the highest wine-making area in Mendoza, meaning that it experiences the cool night time temperatures needed to produce outstanding Malbec grapes.
  • Tradition: Old world wine making regions such as Bordeaux, France, have developed distinct wine making methods over time. These traditional techniques can also shape a region’s terroir. For instance, fortified wines made in Madeira tend to boast a classic roasted and nutty flavour. This is because it’s traditional in Madeira to end fermentation early and add brandy to the mixture, to fortify the wine, before it is aged outside in oak barrels.

Learn about wine

In other words, the term ‘terroir’ refers to how the make-up of a region impacts the way its grapes taste. In order to understand more about the complexities involved in a region’s terroir, you may wish to educate yourself about other key wine concepts. Check out the Ideal Wine Company glossary to become fluent in the language of wine-making.

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