Terroir

ClosMalvernePinotageReserveBy Mary Jo

Terroir has nothing to do with terror, horror movies, or upcoming Halloween.   Instead, terroir is a French word derived from Latin "terra" and French "terre" meaning the earth. 

Most often it's used to refer to the natural conditions of soil, sun, weather, climate, et al, that produce specific flavors in food and drink.   In other words, it's the agricultural version of "we are what we eat."   We all more or less know this even if we don't think about it much, but in wine cultivation, terroir is an important concept.  I might add that I am no wine specialist and my house wine is box pinot grigio, which is a perfectly good table wine.  

But the concept of terroir is interesting.  I started thinking about it when I was writing my most recent book, Once a Soldier.  My fictional San Gabriel is a small kingdom between Portugal and Spain and wine is its most significant product. and the only one that has the potential to bring in revenue through exports.  



Years ago we took a September wine cruise along the Douro River in northern Portugal, an area that is famous for the quality of its wine.  Think of all the port our Regency characters quaff after their dinners!  What makes the wines so prized is the DSCN0740specific conditions found in the Douro Valley and its tributaries, which is why I made the river that runs through my San Gabriel a Douro tributary.  (Not long ago, a friend gave us a bottle of a red wine (not port, but regular wine) from the Douro and it was terrific.)  

I specified that the soil of San Gabriel shares excellence of the Douro valley, with a little something special that made the local wines even better than that. I have a scene where my port wine specialist tastes the soil and the young royal princess decides its her duty to do the same.  (You can find out how to taste the soil on Youtube, but it's something farmers have been doing since time immemorial.)

In order to avoid spoilage when being stored and shipped long distances, port wine is fortified with neutral grape spirits, which stops fermentation and makes the port last longer and make people drunk sooner. <G>  

Stellenbosch flowersI became even more interested in terroir when the Mayhem Consultant and I made an anniversary trip to the most excellent Inn at Perry Cabin,on Maryland's Eastern Shore.  By chance, the night we were there the inn was sponsoring a South African wine tasting dinner featuring Raats Family Wines.  In our first trip to South Africa in 2005 we'd visited the Stellenbosch, which is sort of the Napa Valley wine country of South Africa, so I figured a wine dinner sounded good.  Booking it was one of my better decisions.  <G>  (Picture above was taken in the Stellenbosch.)

What made it particularly fun was that Bruwer Slabbert, a Raats cousin and the company's winemaker was the special guest and the wines were his, and he explained them before each course and each wine sampling.  (Four different wines over the course of the evening.)   Bruwer was a passionate and fascinating apostle for his wines,  I learned the chenin blanc grape does especially well in the South African climate, and that 53% of the world's chenin blanc vines are in South Africa.  

He went on to explain that there were five different geological zones where South African chenin blanc vines are grown, and he blends grapes from three of them to produce what he thought was the best possible chenin blanc.  It's never been a wine I thought much about, but WOW! His were good!!  

IrishSodaBread

Another part of the fun was that the inn's chef, a lovely fellow from Peru, had been sent bottles of the wine beforehand so he could create food that would best pair with the wines.  I chatted with him briefly, and for him it had been a delightful creative experience.  

While terroir is a term most often applied to wine, the concept fits all sorts of things.  Ireland, for example, has wonderful brown soda bread.  When we were there several years ago, virtually every meal included a small fresh loaf of the bread, and we loved it.  

I came back determined to make some, and I found recipes, but also the information that the terroir of Ireland–soil, climate, rainfall–is what produces the soft wheat flour that makes the bread so special.  I couldn't find Irish flour, but I did find an Irish brown soda bread mix from the Auld Country that's pretty good.  But I really should go back to Ireland for taste testing….

Cheeses are another product that is all about terroir.  The soil and climate produce the grass eaten by the cows that give the milk that makes the cheeses.  (This could be a Dr. Seuss rhyme without much effort. <G>) 

France has hundreds of cheeses; French President Charles de Gaulle famously said, "Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?" ("How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?") 

The French take terroir very seriously: they have a government bureau to manage AOL–"appellation d'origine contrôlé," that is, certification that agricultural products such as wine, cheese, butters, and more  must be produced in a specific area to carry the name of that area.  (For example, champagne must be produced in Champagne, and using traditional methods of production.)

Coffee is another product that is extremely terroir dependent.  Jamaican Blue Mountain, anyone?  Or Colombian coffee?  Or chocolates, or teas???

DSCN0162Terroir has so much to do with the things we love to consume.  Do you have favorite foods or drinks that are from particular places?  

To return to wines, different countries are known for different types that feature particular grapes, like Malbec from Argentina or Pinot Noir from New Zealand.  Tell me what you like from particular places!

Mary Jo

65 thoughts on “Terroir”

  1. I liked a lot of things about Once a Soldier, but I have to say that you slipped that concept of terroir in in such a way that it almost seemed to form the basis of the secondary romance. The second time I read/listened to the book I was even more struck by it than before. I have many of your books on my comfort reread list, but this one really struck a chord, seeming to add somehow to my memories of many places I have been over the course of my life. Thanks for this lovely reminder of it!

    Reply
  2. I liked a lot of things about Once a Soldier, but I have to say that you slipped that concept of terroir in in such a way that it almost seemed to form the basis of the secondary romance. The second time I read/listened to the book I was even more struck by it than before. I have many of your books on my comfort reread list, but this one really struck a chord, seeming to add somehow to my memories of many places I have been over the course of my life. Thanks for this lovely reminder of it!

    Reply
  3. I liked a lot of things about Once a Soldier, but I have to say that you slipped that concept of terroir in in such a way that it almost seemed to form the basis of the secondary romance. The second time I read/listened to the book I was even more struck by it than before. I have many of your books on my comfort reread list, but this one really struck a chord, seeming to add somehow to my memories of many places I have been over the course of my life. Thanks for this lovely reminder of it!

    Reply
  4. I liked a lot of things about Once a Soldier, but I have to say that you slipped that concept of terroir in in such a way that it almost seemed to form the basis of the secondary romance. The second time I read/listened to the book I was even more struck by it than before. I have many of your books on my comfort reread list, but this one really struck a chord, seeming to add somehow to my memories of many places I have been over the course of my life. Thanks for this lovely reminder of it!

    Reply
  5. I liked a lot of things about Once a Soldier, but I have to say that you slipped that concept of terroir in in such a way that it almost seemed to form the basis of the secondary romance. The second time I read/listened to the book I was even more struck by it than before. I have many of your books on my comfort reread list, but this one really struck a chord, seeming to add somehow to my memories of many places I have been over the course of my life. Thanks for this lovely reminder of it!

    Reply
  6. Newark, NJ has a large Portuguese neighborhood, and when I worked nearby, I used to shop at a liquor store there. Their selection of wine and port from the Iberian Peninsula was amazing! You have really made me want to visit in person.
    I am fussy about my tea, and I really prefer tea from Sri Lanka(Ceylon) to Indian tea. I don’t have the right vocabulary to describe it, but it’s somehow crisper, more astringent tasting. I’m not sure if it’s the terroir or the tea variety.

    Reply
  7. Newark, NJ has a large Portuguese neighborhood, and when I worked nearby, I used to shop at a liquor store there. Their selection of wine and port from the Iberian Peninsula was amazing! You have really made me want to visit in person.
    I am fussy about my tea, and I really prefer tea from Sri Lanka(Ceylon) to Indian tea. I don’t have the right vocabulary to describe it, but it’s somehow crisper, more astringent tasting. I’m not sure if it’s the terroir or the tea variety.

    Reply
  8. Newark, NJ has a large Portuguese neighborhood, and when I worked nearby, I used to shop at a liquor store there. Their selection of wine and port from the Iberian Peninsula was amazing! You have really made me want to visit in person.
    I am fussy about my tea, and I really prefer tea from Sri Lanka(Ceylon) to Indian tea. I don’t have the right vocabulary to describe it, but it’s somehow crisper, more astringent tasting. I’m not sure if it’s the terroir or the tea variety.

    Reply
  9. Newark, NJ has a large Portuguese neighborhood, and when I worked nearby, I used to shop at a liquor store there. Their selection of wine and port from the Iberian Peninsula was amazing! You have really made me want to visit in person.
    I am fussy about my tea, and I really prefer tea from Sri Lanka(Ceylon) to Indian tea. I don’t have the right vocabulary to describe it, but it’s somehow crisper, more astringent tasting. I’m not sure if it’s the terroir or the tea variety.

    Reply
  10. Newark, NJ has a large Portuguese neighborhood, and when I worked nearby, I used to shop at a liquor store there. Their selection of wine and port from the Iberian Peninsula was amazing! You have really made me want to visit in person.
    I am fussy about my tea, and I really prefer tea from Sri Lanka(Ceylon) to Indian tea. I don’t have the right vocabulary to describe it, but it’s somehow crisper, more astringent tasting. I’m not sure if it’s the terroir or the tea variety.

    Reply
  11. Molly Kate, it sort of slipped in because it only came into focus as I wrote. But I thought it was SO COOL, which is why I wanted to write about it. We all have terroir experiences, but those of us who aren’t foodies don’t think about it much.

    Reply
  12. Molly Kate, it sort of slipped in because it only came into focus as I wrote. But I thought it was SO COOL, which is why I wanted to write about it. We all have terroir experiences, but those of us who aren’t foodies don’t think about it much.

    Reply
  13. Molly Kate, it sort of slipped in because it only came into focus as I wrote. But I thought it was SO COOL, which is why I wanted to write about it. We all have terroir experiences, but those of us who aren’t foodies don’t think about it much.

    Reply
  14. Molly Kate, it sort of slipped in because it only came into focus as I wrote. But I thought it was SO COOL, which is why I wanted to write about it. We all have terroir experiences, but those of us who aren’t foodies don’t think about it much.

    Reply
  15. Molly Kate, it sort of slipped in because it only came into focus as I wrote. But I thought it was SO COOL, which is why I wanted to write about it. We all have terroir experiences, but those of us who aren’t foodies don’t think about it much.

    Reply
  16. Karin, I wish I had a wine shop like that nearby! The Iberian peninsula is the home of fabulous wines, and I’ll bet you could find wine tours of the area if you want to visit.
    Describing taste does require a specialized vocabulary that most of us don’t have, but our mouths know differences. For you tea, it might be both terroir AND the tea variety in the sense that that particular variety grows better in Sri Lanka than India. Sri Lanka may be warmer, more humid, different soils–plenty of reasons for the teas to differ.

    Reply
  17. Karin, I wish I had a wine shop like that nearby! The Iberian peninsula is the home of fabulous wines, and I’ll bet you could find wine tours of the area if you want to visit.
    Describing taste does require a specialized vocabulary that most of us don’t have, but our mouths know differences. For you tea, it might be both terroir AND the tea variety in the sense that that particular variety grows better in Sri Lanka than India. Sri Lanka may be warmer, more humid, different soils–plenty of reasons for the teas to differ.

    Reply
  18. Karin, I wish I had a wine shop like that nearby! The Iberian peninsula is the home of fabulous wines, and I’ll bet you could find wine tours of the area if you want to visit.
    Describing taste does require a specialized vocabulary that most of us don’t have, but our mouths know differences. For you tea, it might be both terroir AND the tea variety in the sense that that particular variety grows better in Sri Lanka than India. Sri Lanka may be warmer, more humid, different soils–plenty of reasons for the teas to differ.

    Reply
  19. Karin, I wish I had a wine shop like that nearby! The Iberian peninsula is the home of fabulous wines, and I’ll bet you could find wine tours of the area if you want to visit.
    Describing taste does require a specialized vocabulary that most of us don’t have, but our mouths know differences. For you tea, it might be both terroir AND the tea variety in the sense that that particular variety grows better in Sri Lanka than India. Sri Lanka may be warmer, more humid, different soils–plenty of reasons for the teas to differ.

    Reply
  20. Karin, I wish I had a wine shop like that nearby! The Iberian peninsula is the home of fabulous wines, and I’ll bet you could find wine tours of the area if you want to visit.
    Describing taste does require a specialized vocabulary that most of us don’t have, but our mouths know differences. For you tea, it might be both terroir AND the tea variety in the sense that that particular variety grows better in Sri Lanka than India. Sri Lanka may be warmer, more humid, different soils–plenty of reasons for the teas to differ.

    Reply
  21. Tea and coffee are items that vary wildly depending on the local conditions, this terroir. We are crazy about Sumatran coffee and different varieties of tea. Currently we are drinking an Assam gold tip tea that is wonderful. Sometimes the producers mix other flavors with the tea to give a special treat, like Earl Grey tea. If you visit the Peet’s coffee and tea website your head will spin with all the varieties available.

    Reply
  22. Tea and coffee are items that vary wildly depending on the local conditions, this terroir. We are crazy about Sumatran coffee and different varieties of tea. Currently we are drinking an Assam gold tip tea that is wonderful. Sometimes the producers mix other flavors with the tea to give a special treat, like Earl Grey tea. If you visit the Peet’s coffee and tea website your head will spin with all the varieties available.

    Reply
  23. Tea and coffee are items that vary wildly depending on the local conditions, this terroir. We are crazy about Sumatran coffee and different varieties of tea. Currently we are drinking an Assam gold tip tea that is wonderful. Sometimes the producers mix other flavors with the tea to give a special treat, like Earl Grey tea. If you visit the Peet’s coffee and tea website your head will spin with all the varieties available.

    Reply
  24. Tea and coffee are items that vary wildly depending on the local conditions, this terroir. We are crazy about Sumatran coffee and different varieties of tea. Currently we are drinking an Assam gold tip tea that is wonderful. Sometimes the producers mix other flavors with the tea to give a special treat, like Earl Grey tea. If you visit the Peet’s coffee and tea website your head will spin with all the varieties available.

    Reply
  25. Tea and coffee are items that vary wildly depending on the local conditions, this terroir. We are crazy about Sumatran coffee and different varieties of tea. Currently we are drinking an Assam gold tip tea that is wonderful. Sometimes the producers mix other flavors with the tea to give a special treat, like Earl Grey tea. If you visit the Peet’s coffee and tea website your head will spin with all the varieties available.

    Reply
  26. One trick I have discovered about pairing wines with food is to choose a wine from the region that gave rise to the dish. Almost any red will do with a beef stew, but a Burgundy makes your mouth sing when served with a Beef Bourguignon.

    Reply
  27. One trick I have discovered about pairing wines with food is to choose a wine from the region that gave rise to the dish. Almost any red will do with a beef stew, but a Burgundy makes your mouth sing when served with a Beef Bourguignon.

    Reply
  28. One trick I have discovered about pairing wines with food is to choose a wine from the region that gave rise to the dish. Almost any red will do with a beef stew, but a Burgundy makes your mouth sing when served with a Beef Bourguignon.

    Reply
  29. One trick I have discovered about pairing wines with food is to choose a wine from the region that gave rise to the dish. Almost any red will do with a beef stew, but a Burgundy makes your mouth sing when served with a Beef Bourguignon.

    Reply
  30. One trick I have discovered about pairing wines with food is to choose a wine from the region that gave rise to the dish. Almost any red will do with a beef stew, but a Burgundy makes your mouth sing when served with a Beef Bourguignon.

    Reply
  31. Your referenceo Stellenbosch really made me smile. My family lived in Cape Town when I was in my teens and I remember excursions to that region. At that stage in my life my main interest in that area was the wonderful Cape Dutch architecture as well as the gorgeous cottages. I still have a collection of photographs from those visits. These days I suspect I would be far more intrigued by the quality of the wine.

    Reply
  32. Your referenceo Stellenbosch really made me smile. My family lived in Cape Town when I was in my teens and I remember excursions to that region. At that stage in my life my main interest in that area was the wonderful Cape Dutch architecture as well as the gorgeous cottages. I still have a collection of photographs from those visits. These days I suspect I would be far more intrigued by the quality of the wine.

    Reply
  33. Your referenceo Stellenbosch really made me smile. My family lived in Cape Town when I was in my teens and I remember excursions to that region. At that stage in my life my main interest in that area was the wonderful Cape Dutch architecture as well as the gorgeous cottages. I still have a collection of photographs from those visits. These days I suspect I would be far more intrigued by the quality of the wine.

    Reply
  34. Your referenceo Stellenbosch really made me smile. My family lived in Cape Town when I was in my teens and I remember excursions to that region. At that stage in my life my main interest in that area was the wonderful Cape Dutch architecture as well as the gorgeous cottages. I still have a collection of photographs from those visits. These days I suspect I would be far more intrigued by the quality of the wine.

    Reply
  35. Your referenceo Stellenbosch really made me smile. My family lived in Cape Town when I was in my teens and I remember excursions to that region. At that stage in my life my main interest in that area was the wonderful Cape Dutch architecture as well as the gorgeous cottages. I still have a collection of photographs from those visits. These days I suspect I would be far more intrigued by the quality of the wine.

    Reply
  36. Ha! It’s always so funny when fancy restaurant people try and recommend wines to go with foods, and I argue that I don’t even like that wine, and if I’m horrifying them by having prosecco for dessert, too bad!
    Chenin blanc is one of my favourite wines, but because we’ve had a chardonnay fad (chardonnay gives me a migraine!), it has been hard to find in recent years. Hopefully there’ll be a new wine fad soon.
    I was actually pretty surprised years ago, when France decided only real champagne could carry the name. In Australia, we fell straight into line, instead of (as I expected) saying: ‘Screw that! I’m calling it champagne no matter what!’
    Now – here – we always call it “sparkling wine” when we order it. I do know, however, that in many other languages, sparkling wine is still always called something like “champansky”.
    People became very upset about that (and restrictions on the name “feta cheese” etc.), but I do understand. About ten years ago I read an airline magazine where a few Italians were upset they didn’t race to trademark their products, and so lost the rights to them to other countries.
    The same thing happened in Australia with ugg boots (not exactly a posh product, but anyway…). Now an American company owns the rights to the name, and Australian companies cannot legally call their own product the name we gave it generations ago, and are sent “cease and desist” letters if they use the name we have always used…

    Reply
  37. Ha! It’s always so funny when fancy restaurant people try and recommend wines to go with foods, and I argue that I don’t even like that wine, and if I’m horrifying them by having prosecco for dessert, too bad!
    Chenin blanc is one of my favourite wines, but because we’ve had a chardonnay fad (chardonnay gives me a migraine!), it has been hard to find in recent years. Hopefully there’ll be a new wine fad soon.
    I was actually pretty surprised years ago, when France decided only real champagne could carry the name. In Australia, we fell straight into line, instead of (as I expected) saying: ‘Screw that! I’m calling it champagne no matter what!’
    Now – here – we always call it “sparkling wine” when we order it. I do know, however, that in many other languages, sparkling wine is still always called something like “champansky”.
    People became very upset about that (and restrictions on the name “feta cheese” etc.), but I do understand. About ten years ago I read an airline magazine where a few Italians were upset they didn’t race to trademark their products, and so lost the rights to them to other countries.
    The same thing happened in Australia with ugg boots (not exactly a posh product, but anyway…). Now an American company owns the rights to the name, and Australian companies cannot legally call their own product the name we gave it generations ago, and are sent “cease and desist” letters if they use the name we have always used…

    Reply
  38. Ha! It’s always so funny when fancy restaurant people try and recommend wines to go with foods, and I argue that I don’t even like that wine, and if I’m horrifying them by having prosecco for dessert, too bad!
    Chenin blanc is one of my favourite wines, but because we’ve had a chardonnay fad (chardonnay gives me a migraine!), it has been hard to find in recent years. Hopefully there’ll be a new wine fad soon.
    I was actually pretty surprised years ago, when France decided only real champagne could carry the name. In Australia, we fell straight into line, instead of (as I expected) saying: ‘Screw that! I’m calling it champagne no matter what!’
    Now – here – we always call it “sparkling wine” when we order it. I do know, however, that in many other languages, sparkling wine is still always called something like “champansky”.
    People became very upset about that (and restrictions on the name “feta cheese” etc.), but I do understand. About ten years ago I read an airline magazine where a few Italians were upset they didn’t race to trademark their products, and so lost the rights to them to other countries.
    The same thing happened in Australia with ugg boots (not exactly a posh product, but anyway…). Now an American company owns the rights to the name, and Australian companies cannot legally call their own product the name we gave it generations ago, and are sent “cease and desist” letters if they use the name we have always used…

    Reply
  39. Ha! It’s always so funny when fancy restaurant people try and recommend wines to go with foods, and I argue that I don’t even like that wine, and if I’m horrifying them by having prosecco for dessert, too bad!
    Chenin blanc is one of my favourite wines, but because we’ve had a chardonnay fad (chardonnay gives me a migraine!), it has been hard to find in recent years. Hopefully there’ll be a new wine fad soon.
    I was actually pretty surprised years ago, when France decided only real champagne could carry the name. In Australia, we fell straight into line, instead of (as I expected) saying: ‘Screw that! I’m calling it champagne no matter what!’
    Now – here – we always call it “sparkling wine” when we order it. I do know, however, that in many other languages, sparkling wine is still always called something like “champansky”.
    People became very upset about that (and restrictions on the name “feta cheese” etc.), but I do understand. About ten years ago I read an airline magazine where a few Italians were upset they didn’t race to trademark their products, and so lost the rights to them to other countries.
    The same thing happened in Australia with ugg boots (not exactly a posh product, but anyway…). Now an American company owns the rights to the name, and Australian companies cannot legally call their own product the name we gave it generations ago, and are sent “cease and desist” letters if they use the name we have always used…

    Reply
  40. Ha! It’s always so funny when fancy restaurant people try and recommend wines to go with foods, and I argue that I don’t even like that wine, and if I’m horrifying them by having prosecco for dessert, too bad!
    Chenin blanc is one of my favourite wines, but because we’ve had a chardonnay fad (chardonnay gives me a migraine!), it has been hard to find in recent years. Hopefully there’ll be a new wine fad soon.
    I was actually pretty surprised years ago, when France decided only real champagne could carry the name. In Australia, we fell straight into line, instead of (as I expected) saying: ‘Screw that! I’m calling it champagne no matter what!’
    Now – here – we always call it “sparkling wine” when we order it. I do know, however, that in many other languages, sparkling wine is still always called something like “champansky”.
    People became very upset about that (and restrictions on the name “feta cheese” etc.), but I do understand. About ten years ago I read an airline magazine where a few Italians were upset they didn’t race to trademark their products, and so lost the rights to them to other countries.
    The same thing happened in Australia with ugg boots (not exactly a posh product, but anyway…). Now an American company owns the rights to the name, and Australian companies cannot legally call their own product the name we gave it generations ago, and are sent “cease and desist” letters if they use the name we have always used…

    Reply
  41. Sonya, the Ugg trademark was lost by Australia? That’s just WRONG!
    I do understand controlled names for food products, since the terroir does affect flavor and quality. By controlling the name, producers can charge more for what is hopefully a premium product. At least consumers will know what they’re getting. True champagne requires a lot of low tech handling, I understand, while prosecco is more of a vat process and cheaper to produce. They’re both very fine, but they’re not quite the same thing.

    Reply
  42. Sonya, the Ugg trademark was lost by Australia? That’s just WRONG!
    I do understand controlled names for food products, since the terroir does affect flavor and quality. By controlling the name, producers can charge more for what is hopefully a premium product. At least consumers will know what they’re getting. True champagne requires a lot of low tech handling, I understand, while prosecco is more of a vat process and cheaper to produce. They’re both very fine, but they’re not quite the same thing.

    Reply
  43. Sonya, the Ugg trademark was lost by Australia? That’s just WRONG!
    I do understand controlled names for food products, since the terroir does affect flavor and quality. By controlling the name, producers can charge more for what is hopefully a premium product. At least consumers will know what they’re getting. True champagne requires a lot of low tech handling, I understand, while prosecco is more of a vat process and cheaper to produce. They’re both very fine, but they’re not quite the same thing.

    Reply
  44. Sonya, the Ugg trademark was lost by Australia? That’s just WRONG!
    I do understand controlled names for food products, since the terroir does affect flavor and quality. By controlling the name, producers can charge more for what is hopefully a premium product. At least consumers will know what they’re getting. True champagne requires a lot of low tech handling, I understand, while prosecco is more of a vat process and cheaper to produce. They’re both very fine, but they’re not quite the same thing.

    Reply
  45. Sonya, the Ugg trademark was lost by Australia? That’s just WRONG!
    I do understand controlled names for food products, since the terroir does affect flavor and quality. By controlling the name, producers can charge more for what is hopefully a premium product. At least consumers will know what they’re getting. True champagne requires a lot of low tech handling, I understand, while prosecco is more of a vat process and cheaper to produce. They’re both very fine, but they’re not quite the same thing.

    Reply

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