The special thing about wine is its connection to a particular place, and to a particular time. Of course, not all wines have this connection. Some very fine wines are a blend of vintages, as are some very cheap ones. And some wines are made in such a way that it’s very hard to know where they came from.
But the important fact here is that for the sorts of wines that I usually like to drink, and which I enjoy the most, there is a definite connection between the place and the wine: a local flavor, known widely as terroir.
Much has been written about terroir. All I want to say here, for now, is that it’s the defining concept in fine wine. If you grow a grape variety (or varieties) in the appropriate place for these varieties, and your viticulture is good, and then you don’t mess things up too much in the winery, you will have a wine that tastes of its place. Some places have more personality than others, of course: Not all terroirs are created equal.
The proof of terroir, though, lies in the hands of winegrowers who make wines the same way from different plots, and then the resulting wines show differences that can only be due to the site. That’s the proof of a concept, and from that starting point we can keep going, expanding this concept and making it more nuanced. It’s what makes wine so interesting.
Do all wines have to be terroir wines? No: I think there is a place for multisite, or multiregion, blends. Vintage Port is the result of skilled blending, and the top Champagnes are also frequently from multiple vineyards.
You could argue, however, that the skilled blenders are working with good terroirs, and understand terroir. It creates the components for successful blending. There’s also the famous example of Penfolds Grange, Australia’s most famous fine wine and a multisite and multiregion blend. I would argue, though, that these exceptions don’t call into question my assertion that terroir is at the heart of fine wine.
And what of time? A wine is not fixed. It is born in a growing season, and bears the characteristics of the weather of that year. The matrix of vintage and place is infinite, yet place should be the anchoring point.
Vintage, then, becomes the lens through which we see place, and follow it over time. The wine develops in the bottle until, eventually, the signature of place is lost and the wine grows timeless and old. No wine is infinite, and this temporal quality reflects our own mortality.
Excerpted from The Goode Guide to Wine: A Manifesto of Sorts by Jamie Goode, published by the University of California Press. © 2020 by the Regents of the University of California.