Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

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Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby TomHill » Sat Dec 29, 2012 6:56 pm

So we recently had a few wines from the Alps of France that could only be described as terroir-driven. It caused me to think (yeah..I do do that occasionally):
There are those who worship at the altar of terroir...that the highest calling of any wine is to express its origins..its terroir. There are others who worship at the altar of varietal typicity...that the highest calling of any wine is to express its varietal character.
So which is it?? Some of these wines spoke overwhelming of their terroir that I could not/barely ferret out any varietal character. Since I didn't have any of the Parker-scores for these wines, danged if I could figure out if I was supposed to like them or not.
So..which is it that's supposed to be valued...terroir or varietal typicity?? Or do all these folks at these altars..are they worshiping false Gods???
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby John S » Sat Dec 29, 2012 8:32 pm

Terroir can sometimes overwhelm typicity (or vice versa), as you suggest, but perhaps this is the exception rather than the rule? I don't think it is either/or with terroir and typicity. At least, I tend to look for both, with maybe typicity being the the first thing I think about - when blind tasting a wine at least - then terroir. Both are important in my enjoyment of a wine, but I don't think one should be a complete slave to these two variables either... context can be important, for example.
"Tastes are perhaps first and foremost distastes, provoked by the disgust and visceral intolerance ... of the taste of others". Pierre Bourdieu (1984, p. 56)
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Rahsaan » Sat Dec 29, 2012 10:04 pm

Quite frankly I don't think most people know enough to really tease out these differences. So much of what we learn is based on limited samples from a narrow range of producers that frame 'terroir' in ways that may not be very accurate.

Another important point with terroir is how focused the definition is. Many people will understand broader regional definitions of terroir and the intersection that has with varietal typicity, but it can be much harder to break that down to vineyard-specific notions of terroir and how those interact with varietal typicity.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Paul Winalski » Sat Dec 29, 2012 10:12 pm

Well, I can offer the experience of my last two dinners with my mother. For Thanksgiving we had 1959 Collette Gros Clos de Vougeot. For Christmas we had 1990 Roumier Bonnes Mares. Both varietal pinot noir. But even taking into account the age difference, very different wines in terms of color, aroma, and flavor profile. I have had enough examples of each of those grands crus to know where the difference came from. Both wines spoke to their respective terroirs, even as they sang out of their common pinot noir hymn book.

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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Rahsaan » Sat Dec 29, 2012 10:32 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:Well, I can offer the experience of my last two dinners with my mother. For Thanksgiving we had 1959 Collette Gros Clos de Vougeot. For Christmas we had 1990 Roumier Bonnes Mares..


See now you're just bragging :D
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Paul Winalski » Sat Dec 29, 2012 10:49 pm

Rahsaan wrote:See now you're just bragging :D


Well, yes and no. :wink:

I have seen a group similarity amongst various producers' Clos de Vougeot, and a similar common profile for Bonnes Mares, or Chambertin. In many cases the same producers make all those wines, so you can see what is the vineyard character (terroir) versus the grape character (they're all pinot noir).

IMO, terroir is for real in some places, most notably the Cote d'Or. I don't see this distinction much in California. I'd say that Carneros has a distinct character, but otherwise in my experience the main difference is whether there are eucalyptus trees growing too near your vines. Otherwise, it's mainly a matter of varietal character, not terroir (read--I think that the California AVAs are mostly BS). And when we talk about wines from the hot regions, you don't even get varietal character anymore--just generic red wine.

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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Rahsaan » Sat Dec 29, 2012 11:01 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:
Rahsaan wrote:See now you're just bragging :D


Well, yes and no. :wink:

I have seen a group similarity amongst various producers' Clos de Vougeot, and a similar common profile for Bonnes Mares, or Chambertin. In many cases the same producers make all those wines, so you can see what is the vineyard character (terroir) versus the grape character (they're all pinot noir)..


As much as I limit my pinot noir consumption to Burgundy, it's hard to really understand the varietal expression without really sampling widely from pinot noir across the world. Otherwise we're just talking about the broader Burgundian terroir expression.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Rahsaan » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:56 am

Interestingly enough, I had a wine tonight that also made me question both of these issues (terroir and varietal typicity). The 2010 Coudert Fleurie Griffe du Marquis. I had it back during the summer and found it a bit ponderous but tonight's bottle was a lovely bottle of wine. For those who don't know, this is the same as the Cuvee Tardive, but aged in barriques instead of foudres. It has all the components of a lovely wine (fruit, depth, minerality, tannic structure) but it was not the most recognizeable as Fleurie or Gamay or Beaujolais (at least to me). So that diminished my enjoyment.

That said, apparently this technique was used in the past so it's not as if it's an untraditional method. Which emphasizes the temporality of how we understand terroir or typicity.

So, who knows. At least it was delicious.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby John S » Sun Dec 30, 2012 2:24 am

Another issue with typicity: is there really only one 'typical' chardonnay, for example? if so, it is burgundy? But then is it Cote de Beaune (Montrachet or Meursault?) or Chablis? Can't there be multiple varietal expressions based on terroir?

The problem with terroir, of course, is that it too is not static. What is considered to be 'traditional' in one region definitely changes over time due to other social changes (e.g., changes in taste or technology).
"Tastes are perhaps first and foremost distastes, provoked by the disgust and visceral intolerance ... of the taste of others". Pierre Bourdieu (1984, p. 56)
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Tim York » Sun Dec 30, 2012 8:01 am

French appellation rules impose the use of certain grape varieties for AO(C)(P) wines so that it is sometimes hard to know whether one is tasting terroir or varietal typicity. In the case of the Alpine appellations, this is particularly difficult because some of their typical varieties such as Mondeuse and Jacquère are AFAIK not found elsewhere.

As Paul points out, terroir differences are marked with Pinot Noir in Burgundy and IMO even more so with Chardonnay where the wines of Chablis, Mâconnais and the Côte d'Or have quite different characters as well as showing nuanced differences within those broad areas. It is fascinating to compare different terroirs in a line-up of Burgundies of the same vintage and producer; anyone who has done this cannot doubt the importance of terroir. However, producer style can over-trump the more subtle terroir differences so this exercise loses some of its validity where comparison of the wines of different producers is concerned.

As John S asks, what is varietal typicity? I fear that, in the minds of the English speaking public, it is associated with with the tastes of the mass market New World varietal wines, such as entry level Cali Chard, Argentinian Malbec, Aussie Shiraz, etc. In view of this, I think that the European AOC/DOCs are very wise to hang onto their geographical denominations; these reflect the differentiation of their individual terroir driven expressions of the varieties and blends thereof both from neighbouring terroirs and much more markedly from the mass market stereotypes.

Nevertheless, for AOC/DOC wines, I support the indication of varieties used as helpful information to the consumer, but not too prominently, perhaps on a back label. For example, I question the wisdom of Cahors' trying to climb onto the Malbec bandwagon by often featuring "Malbec" prominently on its labels; typical Cahors has a very different, more austere character to stereotypical Argentinian Malbec and there are twin risks of disappointing new consumers with the authentic product or of dumbing down the authentic products so as to produce (and often failing) an Argentinian look-alike.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Steve Slatcher » Sun Dec 30, 2012 8:14 am

Rahsaan wrote:Quite frankly I don't think most people know enough to really tease out these differences. So much of what we learn is based on limited samples from a narrow range of producers that frame 'terroir' in ways that may not be very accurate.

Same applies to varietal differences for that matter. I recently realised I had a false notion of typicity in Pinot Noir that was based on a particular style of Burgundy. As for wines from the Alpine France, I freely admit I wouln't even dream of attempting to describe typicity in either variety or terroir. Surely wine-making technique comes into play too - not least in the wines of the Jura.

To answer Tom's question directly - I think both varietal and terroir typicity are false gods. They can be interesting to discuss, and they are useful when selecting a bottle to match with food. Also we do not want all wines tasting the same (though you could maybe acheive that without invoking typicity). So I would grant they are they are important, but I think their importance for drinkers is greatly exaggerated, particularly these days in the case of terroir.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Peter May » Sun Dec 30, 2012 12:25 pm

If we're talking varietal then not only must we compare wines which are 100% of that variety (and not 'topped up' with up with a legal 15% of something else), but also the same clone.

Pinot Noir is not the same as Pinot Noir if they're different clones or different blends of various clones.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Steve Slatcher » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:43 pm

Peter May wrote:If we're talking varietal then not only must we compare wines which are 100% of that variety (and not 'topped up' with up with a legal 15% of something else), but also the same clone.

Pinot Noir is not the same as Pinot Noir if they're different clones or different blends of various clones.

I am not sure I agree, Peter. Surely it is perfectly reasonable to compare any bottles that have Pinot Noir on the label, and arrive at a concept of Pinot Noirness, while accepting that other variables (clones, minor additions of other grapes, terroir) may be adding some noise?
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Brian Gilp » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:50 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:Otherwise, it's mainly a matter of varietal character, not terroir (read--I think that the California AVAs are mostly BS). And when we talk about wines from the hot regions, you don't even get varietal character anymore--just generic red wine.


Not sure that I agree with this. I have come to the point where I can tell A Sta Rita Hills PN from a Santa Maria and I can generally tell Howell Mtn from Rutherford from Alexander Valley when it comes to Cab. Do they need to separate Diamond and Spring Mtn? Probably not but mostly, I get it.

As for hot regions, what defines hot? Is it daytime highs or GDD or something else. Is it only for the period between Verasion and harvest or is it entire growing season or the entire year? And where does sunlight enter the discussion since photosynthesis drives sugar accumulation. Soil influences vine vigor and grape chemical composition. Then we get into the man made elements of vine training and pick date that can obscure the inputs from nature. Depending upon how one defines hot, you could be talking about Paso, Sicily, Greece, Campania, or Rioja. I am just not convinced that varietal character or even terroir character has to be lost in a hot region but that the impact of man's decisions show greater in such conditions and the man made decisions have a greater influence on the final product. If it is the heat alone, then as I have said before, I don't understand the mechanism by which heat and heat alone destroys character (varietal and terroir) considering all the other elements and decisions that influence the final product and this is all before it even gets into the winemakers hands.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Joy Lindholm » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:56 pm

There are so many great factors in what encompasses terroir - soil type and nutrients, elevation, sunlight exposure, weather, etc. that it is hard to generalize in a broad sense (ie. California wines do not display terroir because it is too hot). Many wines lose their essence of terroir (and typicity) due to over-ripening or manipulation in the cellar, but when you narrow it down to a specific region (and decent wine making), you can really see where little differences like temperature and elevation make a difference. I just returned from Willamette Valley and left with a great understanding of the different AVAs and their microclimates, soil types, etc, whereas previously I just thought in the broader spectrum "Willamette Valley Pinot Noir". The method is far from scientific, but when you taste Pinot (or any variety) from the same producer made from grapes from different locations in the same winemaking style, you start to see how the different areas stand out. I'm sure the same is true in Burgundy and other areas like Germany where Rieslings made by the same producers show very differently based on where they were grown.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Peter May » Sun Dec 30, 2012 2:21 pm

Steve Slatcher wrote: I am not sure I agree, Peter. Surely it is perfectly reasonable to compare any bottles that have Pinot Noir on the label, and arrive at a concept of Pinot Noirness, while accepting that other variables (clones, minor additions of other grapes, terroir) may be adding some noise?


Maybe I misunderstood. I thought it was discussing how much difference terroir makes. There is so much difference between PN from different clones that I can't see that one could lay difference between two PNs from different areas as solely down to terroir.

I agree with you that terroir is just one factor, winemaking, yeasts, barrels make just as much or more difference.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby David Creighton » Sun Dec 30, 2012 2:34 pm

ooh, ooh 'pinotnoirness' - philosophy - plato - yes!

but in a sense this is a very new world discussion. we think of the variety that is on the label and the place that is on the label and try to ferret out how much of each is in the bottle. then we apply that to burgundy. the producer has no idea what 'varietal' character means. he places gevry or givry or whatever on his label and expects it to taste like that - just that. and that is what the authorities expect as well. and me.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Hoke » Sun Dec 30, 2012 2:43 pm

As usual, engaging comments from astute observers of wine.

Discussing the variability of wine is (almost always) enjoyable. It's also much like discussing literature, or film, or any other form of human-created art: it all depends on who is observing and when they are observing it.

Wine's a moving target, after all---at least the kind of wine we all like to drink and discuss. It, and we, are constantly changing so the perspective changes, within the wine and within us. And that's what makes it intriguing.

Teasing out varietal typicity, along with untangling terroir and identifying the human stylistic touch, together constitute wine's fascination for me. They are very rarely distinct and separate from each other, and the relationship is always changing anyway. Even with distinctive examples of the more "transparent" varieties, Pinot Noir and RIesling most readily coming to mind, the variability of any wine in a glass is so profound as to confound us all.

When I've been at my most devious in teaching-about-wine mode I have been known to pour out a serious of blind glasses of the same wine, one straight from the bottle, one aerated, and one vigorously poured back and forth numerous times. Or I have opened three bottles of the same wine and presented them as three different glasses, without comment or narration, for a taster's review.

I've served up wine made by the same winemaker in as close to the same way as possible with the only variable being minor gradations of terroir. Done the same with wines from vastly different terroirs but made by the same winemaker. Done the same with different varieties made by the same winemaker. Done the same with a single piece of vineyard toyed with and explicated by different winemakers.

I suspect we all have done the like, at one time or another, in one way or another, wine geeks that we are.

The one and only thing I've learned absolutely, without question, from all of this? I need to do more research.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Rahsaan » Sun Dec 30, 2012 3:02 pm

David Creighton wrote:then we apply that to burgundy. the producer has no idea what 'varietal' character means...


Only the ones who are so provincial as to never have tasted pinot noir from outside of Burgundy. Otherwise, they are very aware of the broader varietal parameters and how they get filtered through different regions/villages/vineyards.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Rahsaan » Sun Dec 30, 2012 3:03 pm

Hoke wrote:The one and only thing I've learned absolutely, without question, from all of this? I need to do more research.


That is true.

And thankfully, it's one of the more enjoyable and engaging types of research!
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CA

Postby Rahsaan » Sun Dec 30, 2012 3:10 pm

On the California issue, it clearly has terroir and many wines clearly display varietal characteristics.

That said, I think extremely overripe and extremely underripe wines both lose varietal characteristics and become generic. However, as we know from all the great distinctive wines in the history of CA (and which continue to be made), the extent to which overripe generic red wine comes out of CA is probably as much about producer intent as anything else.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Brian K Miller » Sun Dec 30, 2012 4:15 pm

My two cents: I think terroir and typicite are certainly important, but at least in California winemaking decisions trump these factors in the modern California wine market. I'll pull out two examples: Signorello and Darioush. Two Stag's Leap AVA wineries right next to each other with significant estate plantings. The wines taste utterly different. (Signorello can be awesome and Darioush the epitome of fruit-bomb-oak-milkshake).

Too many examples of this issue.
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Hoke » Sun Dec 30, 2012 4:40 pm

Brian K Miller wrote:My two cents: I think terroir and typicite are certainly important, but at least in California winemaking decisions trump these factors in the modern California wine market. I'll pull out two examples: Signorello and Darioush. Two Stag's Leap AVA wineries right next to each other with significant estate plantings. The wines taste utterly different. (Signorello can be awesome and Darioush the epitome of fruit-bomb-oak-milkshake).

Too many examples of this issue.


True, but the primary reason for this is the difference in U.S. versus Europe (not just Old World versus New World). The U.S. regulations are so loose and varied as to be relatively meaningless. On purpose. The AVA system is not in any way like the Euro system, with the exception of specifically designed boundary lines. Even the reason for the boundary lines is different, in philosophy and practice.

It's the U.S. individualism-dominates versus the communal viewpoint of the Euro. That, and the reality that most U.S. winemakers aren't farmers---they're either entrepreneurs or businesspeople/corporations. Where many of the Euro winemakers are still family and farmers first, and business entities second.

Outside of residing within a specific designated geographic boundary, Signorello and Darioush are not only not required to have any similarities, similarities are actively discouraged. "Very similar to and reminiscent of your next door neighbor" is not something a Napa Valley winery owner wants to hear. :D

There are no requirements for and very few mandatory limitations of all the things that are required and limited in any given Euro AOC system. The U.S. winemaker wants to be free to do whatever he or she wants---thus the emphasis will ALWAYS be on the producer. The emphasis may be on the producer in the Euro system, but that producer has to obey fairly rigid (sometimes not, and there's always Italy) restrictions and caveats as well, so there'll almost always be a similarity of some sort in play (if only varietal identity, which includes blends as well----look up the dizzying requirements all over the Rhone and Provence, for instance; there's specificity for you!).
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Re: Terroir vs. Varietal Typicity???

Postby Dale Williams » Sun Dec 30, 2012 4:48 pm

David Creighton wrote:but in a sense this is a very new world discussion. we think of the variety that is on the label and the place that is on the label and try to ferret out how much of each is in the bottle. then we apply that to burgundy. the producer has no idea what 'varietal' character means. he places gevry or givry or whatever on his label and expects it to taste like that - just that. and that is what the authorities expect as well. and me.


I'm pretty sure that Joblot has a pretty different idea about what his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Givrys taste like. :)
And for that matter plenty of Burg producers produce Aligote or Gamay (for PTG or BGO), and understand that varietal character. And then the PN white sports.......
In the Old World terroir is of course not exclusive to Burgundy (or Chardonnay or PN). Goldert in Alsace can have a terroir that shows through in Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer.
I find less identifiable terroir in CA than in Burgundy, but that doesn't mean that the differences in terroir don't exist, it is probably a combination of (a) my lack of experience with the various locales in CA, (b) some producers pushing a paradigm that doesn't reflect terroir (happens in Burgundy too, just less widespread), & (c) lack of history in winemaking means AVAs aren't necessarily as uniform as places with hundreds of years of history.
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