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Your Wine Guy: Understanding Terroir

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Doug Rosen, owner of long-time Arlington wine store Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Why drink wine? If liquor is quicker and beer cheaper, what makes us go to such lengths to understand, collect and treasure wine?

The answer is simple: no other beverage — alcoholic or not — has the ability to convey the unique flavors of its birthplace. Wine and wine alone, when deftly made, speaks of the flavors of a unique plot, climate, and growing season.

Have you ever wondered why an Oregon pinot noir doesn’t taste like a Burgundy?  Or why a Bordeaux doesn’t taste like a California cabernet or a Cahors like an Argentine Malbec? Terroir is the first place to look. It’s the expression of a unique signature, of an address that can’t be duplicated; the elusive specificity, driven by the confluence of grapes, soil, and sun. It’s the notion that only fermented grape juice has the ability to sign its own birth certificate.

Even identical grapes planted yards apart can yield different flavors.  The undulating hills of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or (golden slope) are the world’s most famous example. Wine enthusiasts can spend lifetimes trying to understand and master the subtleties and nuances of each of the hundreds of parcels. Each of these parcels can have a slightly different soil structure due to its location on the slope, sun exposure and drainage, creates thousands of unique microclimates that affect everything from taste, to aromas, to longevity.

How to explore the notion of terroir? Taste, taste and taste some more, but don’t just taste one bottle at a time. Taste with a purpose. Select at least four different wines of the same varietal (e.g. cabernet, pinot noir or chardonnay) and taste them at one time (a great party theme), noting the differences in color, aromas, texture, flavors and finish. All four can be from the same viticulture area (e.g. Napa Valley, Willamette Valley or Burgundy) or you can choose to tour the world, and select one from each area (e.g. pinot noir from California, Oregon, Burgundy and New Zealand).  For an even more challenging tasting, select four from the same village and note the differences that can be found within an area of only a few square miles (e.g. Chambolle Musigny in Burgundy).

Have fun, but pay attention to your preferences. Was it the aromas, mouth-feel or flavors that you especially liked? Try to dissect exactly what about those components drew you in. Armed with that information, your local fine wine merchant can serve you better on your next visit.

Shopping List

Sauvignon Blanc From Around the World

2009 Wild Rock Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand $13.99
2010 Domaine Joel Delaunay Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine, France $14.99
2010 Yorkville Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, California $17.99
2010 Colutta, Colli Orientali Del Friuli, Italy $19.99

Pinot Noir From Around the World

2010 Over The Edge, Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand $15.99
2010 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuvee, Willamette Valley, Oregon $19.99
2009 Jean Michel et Laurent Pillot Bourgogne – $21.99 $21.99
2009 Banshee Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California $25.99

Wines Within One Area – 2009 Boyer-Martenot Meursault

2009 Boyer-Martenot Meursault “Les Tillets” $49.99
2009 Boyer-Martenot Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru $75.99
2009 Boyer-Martenot Meursault-Genevrières 1er Cru $79.99
2009 Boyer-Martenot Meursault Perrières 1er Cru  $82.99

Email any comments or questions to [email protected]. Follow Doug on Twitter (@ArrowineInc) or like the store on Facebook. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at

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