Talking dirty about wines

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BUZZ: Hey Marnie, how come I keep seeing wine labels that talk about terror? And these aren't even Halloween-themed leftovers. What gives?

Marnie: You missed a letter in there, Buzz. There's an important wine concept called "terroir" that more wineries mention in their marketing these days. It's a French word that rhymes with "film noir." Loosely translated, it means earth or soil in everyday speech. It's used in wine lingo as shorthand for location-specific sensory traits - the recognizable taste of a specific place, like a particular vineyard's flavor fingerprint.

Buzz: For real? They say on the label the wine tastes like dirt?

Marnie: No. Terroir characteristics are often described as an "earthy" scent or "mineral" flavor. Site-specific traits can also manifest in spicy, herbal, or nutty flavors or in a distinctive texture.

Buzz: That's hilarious. My wife complains that I'm being too earthy when I make Hillary Clinton jokes, but I guess I can tell her that's a good thing now.

Marnie: Maybe not in that context, but "earthy" is praised in wine circles. Many popular wine styles feature strongly earthy flavors. Pinot noir being the most famous, but we often find similar aromas in dry wines from places like Italy, France, and Spain.

Buzz: Do they use dogs to track smelly dirt places for wine?

Marnie: No, Buzz, earthiness is encountered most often in the traditional wine regions that use traditional methods. When hypermodern techniques are used - like pesticides or cultured-yeast strains - they tend to obscure terroir characteristics, giving greater prominence to more generic fruit flavors.

Buzz: So wine shouldn't taste like fruit? Sounds highfalutin'.

Marnie: Of course it should taste like fruit, but we also value additional layers of flavor in fine wines. Terroir may first have risen to prominence as a wine term, but nowadays you'll see it applied to all sorts of premium foods that have location-specific flavor variations, like cheeses and chickens and tomatoes. Terroir is a key concept in the farm-to-table movement.

Buzz: You know what? Terroir ought to start applying to people. There are places where they look and act pretty good, and other places where they don't.

Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author. Check her out at MarnieOld.com. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Gar Joseph.