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Can You Taste the Terroir?

At some point in your wine journey, if you haven't already, you'll come across the term "terroir." Pronounced tare-wahr, this French word refers to a "sense of place," or the way regional influences affect how the grapes of that area are grown and how the resulting wine tastes.

It's easy to see how this works on the surface. If you plant orange trees in Florida, you'll find much more success than if you planted the same trees in New York, where the weather conditions and soil composition aren't conducive to producing plump, juicy citrus fruits. Even if you plant the same orange trees in California, which has great growing conditions, those oranges will taste different from the Florida oranges because the climates and soils of the respective areas aren't exactly the same.

But terroir takes things one step further — the concept goes so far as to posit that the wines will pick up elements of its environment. For example, if the grapes are grown on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, the resulting wine is said to feature a saline quality — an effect of the grapes and soil being constantly exposed to the briny ocean air. The wine captures that region's terroir.

Old World winemakers tend to focus on terroir more than New World winemakers, perhaps because they want to remind you that even though their grape varieties are now grown all over the world, they're the OG for a reason. In theory, Sauvignon Blanc made in California or New Zealand can be amazing, but only Sauvignon Blanc made in the Sancerre region of France will have that particularly vibrant acidity (from the unique climate conditions) and telltale notes of flint (from the distinctive mineral makeup of the soil).

So at the end of the day, is terroir real or a myth? Is it a marketing ploy or can you really taste it in the wine? It's difficult to pinpoint the answer because the concept is elusive. Taste is subjective all on its own, so by extension, terroir must be as well. But there must be a reason why winemakers and drinkers have been discussing terroir for thousands of years. And what may be more important than taking a stand on the topic is simply joining the conversation in the first place.

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