Friday, January 1, 2010

Terroir continued

Happy new year, y'all! I have been participating in another 'terroir' discussion and thought this would be useful to post here:

Let me see if this makes sense - there is something that drives me to want to find completion for explaining things like terroir - not leaving it open ended and undefined. Please excuse my obstinance and let me try an analogy that occured to me.

Terroir is the combination of everything and anything that shapes the characteristics of a wine. A 'gout de terroir' is a distinctive characteristic in a wine that enables someone with experience to connect a wine back to its' origin.

Here is an important definition to help explain things:
Flavor: definition #4, American Heritage DictionaryA distinctive yet intangible quality felt to be characteristic of a given thing: "What matters in literature . . . is surely the idiosyncratic, the individual, the flavor or color of a particular human suffering" (Harold Bloom).
New York, as a city, has a certain 'flavor' to it. Meaning there are certain things that distinguish the locale. The people, the taxis, the buildings. If you see a picture of the skyline or Times Square you can say, "oh, that's New York." London has a different flavor. Or LA, or San Francisco, or Miami, or Peoria. Every town, village or city has a 'flavor' to it.

If you have never been to the town, or seen pictures of it or a movie set in it you may not be able to recognize the 'flavor' of a place. If you see a movie set in parts of Miami you may not be able to distinguish it from Cuba. The more experienced you become with the places the more adept you become at recognizing the 'flavors' and identifying the locality. Skylines, neighborhoods, villages, towns and cities change over time. The 'flavor' of a neighborhood may become transformed and unrecognizable to someone who grew up there. They will lament that something was lost - it is not like it was in the 'good old days.'

The smell of a certain section of a place may be viewed by one person negatively as a stench (flaw) or by another as a distinguishing attribute that evokes positive memories. Low tide will do this, as well as a run around Pike's Place in Seattle!
The 'flavor' of New York changed on 9/11. The twin towers went down and the 'distinctive characteristics' of the skyline were forever changed. Phylloxera devastated the vineyards of France in the late 19th century and millions of vines had to be replanted but only after being grafted onto (gasp) Americian rootstock. The terroir, the local flavor of the wines and even the people, changed as a result.

THIS is terroir: the FLAVOR of a wine in the context of "a distinctive yet intangible quality felt to be characteristic of a given thing." It ma be any combination of the people, the customs, the the traditions, the soil, climate, yeasts and barrels - anything and everything that plays a role in shaping the 'flavor' of a wine from a given place. A 'gout de terroir' are the elements of true flavor (in a sensory context) that enables a person with an intimate knowledge and memory of wine 'places' to say, "that is a Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy," or "that is a Lodi Zinfancel," or "that is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc," "this is Harlan Estate," ad nauseum.

People can do that! A wine may exhibit great qualities yet have no context of terroir. When Sassacaia came along in the region where Sangiovese was sacred it was greeted with skepticism. It became so overwhelmingly successful the entire region of Chianti was changed! The 'alien' Cabernet was now desireable, even legalized to replace the tradtional white grapes that were required in Chianti. The gout te terroir of Chianti morphed.

Good and bad experiences shape your memories and attitutudes. You can go to LA and find yourself in a bad neighborhood. That may forever change your memories and the mere thought of LA will elicit an "I HATE LA" response. Conversely you could hate New York but go there and discover a neighborhood that is filled with friendly, loving people that bowl you over with their charm and grace. Then people get together on a New York or LA of Paris or London or Peoria discussion on line and we all get to argue over who is right or wrong! we are, of course, human.

Love to you all for the New Year!