Terroir is the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop‘s epigenetic qualities, when the crop is grown in a specific habitat. Collectively, these environmental characteristics are said to have a character; terroir also refers to this character.
Some artisanal crops for which terroir is studied include wine, coffee, tobacco, chocolate, chili peppers,hops, agave (for making tequila and mezcal), tomatoes, heritage wheat, maple syrup, tea, andcannabis.
Terroir is the basis of the French wine appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system, which is a model for wine appellation and regulation in France and around the world. The AOC system presumes that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that growing site (the plants’ habitat). The extent of terroir’s significance is deliberated in the wine industry.
Over the centuries, French winemakers developed the concept of terroir by observing the differences in wines from different regions, vineyards, or even different sections of the same vineyard. The French began to crystallize the concept of terroir as a way of describing the unique aspects of a place that influence and shape the wine made from it. Long before the French, the winemaking regions of the ancient world already developed a concept of different regions having the potential to create very different and distinct wines, even from the same grapes. TheAncient Greeks would stamp amphorae with the seal of the region they came from and soon different regions established reputations based on the quality of their wines. For most of its history, Burgundy was cultivated by the literate and disciplined members of the Benedictine andCistercian orders. With vast land holdings, the monks were able to conduct large scale observation of the influences that various parcels of land had on the wine it produced. Some legends have the monks going as far as “tasting” the soil. Over time the monks compiled their observations and began to establish the boundaries of different terroirs-many of which still exist today as the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy.
While wine experts disagree about the exact definition, particular consideration is given to the natural elements that are beyond the control of humans. Components often described as aspects of terroirinclude:
The interaction of climate and terroir is generally broken down from the macroclimate of a larger area (For example, the Côte de Nuits region of Burgundy), down to the mesoclimate of a smaller subsection of that region (such as the village of Vosne-Romanée) and even to the individual microclimate of a particular vineyard or row of grapevines (like the Grand Cru vineyard of La Grande Rue). The element of soil relates both to the composition and the intrinsic nature of the vineyard soils, such as fertility, drainage and ability to retain heat. Geomorphology refers to natural landscape features likemountains, valleys and bodies of water, which affect how the climate interacts with the region, and includes the elements of aspect andelevation of the vineyard location.
Human controlled elements
The definition of terroir can be expanded to include elements that are controlled or influenced by humans. This can include the decision of which grape variety to plant, though whether or not that grape variety will produce quality wine is an innate element of terroir that may be beyond human influence. Some grape varieties thrive better in certain areas than in others. The winemaking decision of using wild or ambient yeast in fermentation instead of cultured or laboratory produced yeast can be a reflection of terroir. The use of oak is a controversial element since some will advocate that its use is beneficial in bringing out the natural terroir characteristics while others will argue that its use can mask the influences of the terroir.
Influences of viticulture and winemaking
Many decisions during the growing and winemaking process can either lessen or increase the expression of terroir in the wine. These include decisions about pruning, irrigation and selecting time of harvest. At the winery the use of oak, cultured or ambient yeast, length of macerationand time in contact with lees, temperature during fermentation as well as processes like micro-oxygenation, chaptalization, clarification withfining agents, and reverse osmosis all have the potential to either reduce or emphasize some aspect derived from the terroir. Winemakers can work between the extremes of producing wine that is terroir-driven and focussed on purely expressing the unique aspects of a region’s terroir, or winemaking that is done without any consideration given to terroir. Furthermore, aspects of terroir such as climate and soil type may be considered when deciding such things as which grape variety to plant if the goal is to make good wine rather than terroir-driven wine.
The importance of these influences depends on the culture of a particular wine region. In France, particularly Burgundy, there is the belief that the role of a winemaker is to bring out the expression of a wine’s terroir. The French word for winemaker, vigneron, is more aptly translated as “wine-grower” rather than “winemaker”. The belief that the terroir is the dominant influence in the wine is the basis behind French wine labelsemphasizing the region, vineyard, or AOC more prominently than the varietal of grape, and often more prominently than the producer.
The influence of terroir means that wines from a particular region are unique, incapable of being reproduced outside that area, even if the grape variety and winemaking techniques are painstakingly duplicated. Winemakers in Burgundy do not believe that they are producing Pinot noir that happens to be grown in Burgundy, but that they are producing unique Burgundian wines that happen to be made from Pinot noir. Appellation systems, such as the French AOC systems, have developed around the concepts of “unique wines from a unique area”. These systems have also developed into protected designation of origin across the European Union so that, for example, winemakers from outside a region likeTuscany can not produce a Sangiovese wine and call it a Chianti. While the wine may be made from the same clonal variety of Sangiovese, in the same soil composition as found in the Chianti region with winemakers using the Tuscan method of production, there is an assumption that the two wines will be different due to terroir.
The names of these European wine regions are protected so that wines from different regions and different terroir are not confused with wines from that those regions – i.e. A Spanish or Australian “chianti”. In the United States there is some confusion over the use of semi-generic names like Champagne and Port but there has been more effort by the American wine industry to recognize the unique association of place names with the wines produced in those places, such as the 2005 Napa Declaration on Place agreement. While appellation systems and the protected designations of origin can be a way of protecting “unique terroir“, the commercial importance of terroir has been a much debated topic in the wine industry.
Original Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terroir
Italian appellation system
In 1963, the first official Italian system of classification of wines was launched. Since then, several modifications and additions to the legislation have been made (a major one in 1992), the last of which, in 2010, has established four basic categories, which are consistent with the last EU regulation in matter of wine (2008–09). The categories, from the bottom level to the top one, are:
- Vini (Wines – informally called ‘generic wines’): These are wines that can be produced anywhere in the territory of the EU; no indication of geographical origin, of the grape varieties used, or of the vintage is allowed on the label. (The label only reports the color of the wine.)
- Vini Varietali (Varietal Wines): These are generic wines that are made either mostly (at least 85%) from one kind of authorized ‘international’ grapes (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah) or entirely from two or more of them. The grape(s) and the vintage can be indicated on the label. (The prohibition to indicate the geographical origin is instead maintained. These wines can be produced anywhere in the territory of the EU.)
- Vini IGP (Wines with Protected Geographical Indication): This category (also traditionally implemented in Italy as IGT – Typical Geographical Indication) is reserved to wines produced in a specific territory within Italy and following a series of specific and precise regulations on authorized varieties, viticultural and vinification practices, organoleptic and chemico-physical characteristics, labeling instructions, etc. Currently (2016) there exist 118 IGPs/IGTs.
- Vini DOP (Wines with Protected Designation of Origin): This category includes two sub-categories, i.e. Vini DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) and Vini DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin). DOC wines must have been IGP wines for at least 5 years. They generally come from smaller regions, within a certain IGP territory, that are particularly vocated for their climatic and geological characteristics and for the quality and originality of the local winemaking traditions. They also must follow stricter production regulations than IGP wines. A DOC wine can be promoted to DOCG if it has been a DOC for at least 10 years. In addition to fulfilling the requisites for DOC wines (since that’s the category they come from), before commercialization DOCG wines must pass stricter analyses, including a tasting by a specifically appointed committee. DOCG wines have also demonstrated a superior commercial success. Currently (2016) there exist 332 DOCs and 73 DOCGs for a total of 405 DOPs.
A number of sub-categories also exist regulating the production of sparkling wines (e.g. Vino Spumante, Vino Spumante di Qualità, Vino Spumante di Qualità di Tipo Aromatico, Vino Frizzante).
Within the DOP category, ‘Classico’ is a wine produced in the historically oldest part of the protected territory. ‘Superiore’ is a wine with at least 0.5 more alc%/vol than its correspondent regular DOP wine and produced using a smaller allowed quantity of grapes per hectare, generally yielding a higher quality. ‘Riserva’ is a wine that has been aged for a minimum period of time, depending on the typology (red, white, Traditional-method sparkling, Charmat-method sparkling). Sometimes, ‘Classico’ or ‘Superiore’ are themselves part of the name of the DOP (e.g. Chianti Classico DOCG or Soave Superiore DOCG).
It is important to remark that looser regulations do not necessarily correspond to lower quality. In fact, many IGP wines are actually top level products, mainly due to the special skills of their producers (e.g. so called “Super Tuscan” wines are generally IGP wines, but there are also several other IGP wines of superior quality).
Unlike France, Italy has never had an official classification of its best ‘crus’. Private initiatives like the Comitato Grandi Cru d’Italia (Committee of the Grand Crus of Italy) and the Instituto del Vino Italiano di Qualità—Grandi marchi (Institute of Quality Italian Wine—Great Brands) each gather a selection of renowned top Italian wine producers, in an attempt to unofficially represent the Italian wine excellence.
In 2007 the Barbaresco Consorzio was the first to introduce the Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive (additional geographic mentions) also known as MEGA or subzones; there were 65 subzones vineyard areas, with one more approved in 2010 which brought the final number to 66. The main goal was to put official boundaries to some of the most storied crus in order to protect them from unjustified expansion and exploitation.
The Barolo Consorzio followed suit in 2010 with 181 MEGA, of which 170 were vineyard areas and 11 were village designations. Following the introductions of MEGA for Barbaresco and Barolo the term Vigna (Italian for vineyard) can be used on labels after its respective MEGA and only if the vineyard is within one of the approved official geographic mentions. The official introduction of subzones is strongly advocated by some for different denominations, but so far Barolo and Barbaresco are the only ones to have them.
Italian wine regions
Italy’s twenty wine regions correspond to the twenty administrative regions. Understanding of Italian wine becomes clearer with an understanding of the differences between each region; their cuisines reflect their indigenous wines, and vice versa. The 73 DOCG wines are located in 15 different regions but most of them are concentrated in Piedmont, Veneto and Tuscany. Among these are appellations appreciated and sought after by wine lovers around the world: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino (colloquially known as the “Killer B’s”). Other notable wines that in the latest years gain much attention in the international markets and among specialists are: Amarone della Valpolicella, Prosecco di Conegliano- Valdobbiadene, Taurasi from Campania, Franciacorta sparkling wines from Lombardy; evergreen wines are Chianti and Soave, while new wines from the Centre and South of Italy are quickly gaining recognition: Sagrantino, Primitivo, Nero D’Avola among others. The Friuli-Venezia Giulia is world famous for the quality of her white wines, like Pinot Grigio. Special sweet wines like Passitos and Moscatos, made in different regions, are also famous since old time.
The regions are, roughly from Northwest to Southeast: