Terroir is the Holy Grail of wine. The word originated in France, and as a concept it is simple and easy to embrace: can the totality of elements at a single vineyard express themselves through wine? This includes the influences of soil, sun, rain, hail, topography, and even culture.
From my experience, terroir is real but much more rare than the wine industry would have you believe. It’s the delicacy of Barolo from the La Morra hill versus the power of a Barolo from Monforte d’Alba. It’s the glycerin texture of a Riesling from Alsace’s Grand Cru Brand versus the herbal tones of one from the Grand Cru Frankstein. It is not, for example, the barnyard-smelling musk that overwhelms the fruit tones in some “natural” wines. That’s a winery process run amok; the words of the vineyard spoken over by consumer trendiness.
Seasoned pros can identify these differences better than most of us. But you, too, can pick it up if you tune out the noise and listen to certain wines. Below are stories where terroir has revealed its mysterious hand to me.