Tag Archives: organic wine

Debunking Terroir

I’ve heard so much about terroir in the wine press/blogging/twitter the last few years, that I’m past overwhelmed by all the statements and now into my denial phase. If you’re not familiar with “terroir”, it’s all about the “placeness” of a wine: the what, where, and how of the type of vine chosen, the varietal, the roots, the soil, the micro-climate, the wine maker, the regionality and of course all the factors that go into making the wine. For example, the “terroirists” or proponents of the idea that wine (and cheese, and beer, and pretty much anything you consume) should represent the unique characteristics of its region, are generally against much human manipulation, ie. chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, and too much use of new oak (this is a very short list, there are many more!). Their thinking is that we should taste nature’s gift the way nature intended it to be–use natural yeast, don’t filter or fine, and let the grapes ferment and express themselves the way they were meant to..enough, enough!

So what’s my issue with the concept of terroir? Does my skepticism towards the idea that you can (or can not) taste the soil in the final expression of the wine give me the right to throw the whole idea of nature’s expression out the window? Well, that’s not my point. I actually believe that better wine makers know and understand the locality they live in and they should use the least aggressive means of getting the vine to ripen grapes and express the full range of flavors. I believe that terroir, like character, is personal to each wine consumer. We each HAVE our own terroir (where you were born, your family history, the way you were brought up, etc.) and VIEW terroir differently – you say tomato, I say tomaato, well..you get the picture. We all express our own terroir, taste things in our own way, and we should each express our own opinions. The terroirists like many idealists are just too fanatical for my tastes, so to speak. They often condemn “manufactured wines” that have no soul, no individuality, and don’t represent a unique micro-climate. Fine–but just like the average American consumer, I want to enjoy a wine and I want it to taste good – what if 2 Buck Chuck tastes better to my palate than a $45 bottle of Burgundy, does that make me insincere? Isn’t there a place for mass market wines just like there’s a place for chain stores, or other commercially made products? Sure, I prefer handmade chocolates, but I’m not offended by the highly industrialized manufacture of Hershey Kisses, hey they taste good too!

The French say “to each his own” – so be it with wine. You only buy grass-fed organic beef from the farmer’s market, I like Prime-Aged corn-finished meat, but my mother swears by the tenderloin at Costco. Same with wine, each of us has different needs and goals in mind, so that should sincerely respected. I’d rather drink a local Virginia or Maryland wine (non-organic – it’s not possible at this point to produce organic wines in our area primarily due to humidity and rainfall during harvest issues) than an organic wine from say Chile. Both wines are great, but I can see the face of the Virginia winemaker at a local wine tasting room or at local tastings. I like the idea to keep money in the community when possible – that’s my feel good issue. For me, my sense of terroir is connected with the people I help in life – economically, spiritually, and in whatever way I can be of assistance. I don’t give money to international charities because I try to assist the homeless that live within a mile of a my home. My terroir is right here..

Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler

Top 20 Questions of Wine Newbies

Napa Tasting Room

Napa Tasting Room

It’s been a great time for me to work on my upcoming book “I Drink On the Job” – nothing is happening right now at http://www.tastedc.com, my full-time wine tasting gig, so I’ve put alot of thought and energy into the book.  Of course, my computer ate about 30 pages of material, go figure, but I’m coming on strong with plenty of verve, a bit less wine and Scotch in my system, but you gotta make choices!

So my most recent foray is to figure out what are the top 20 or so questions that newbie wine drinkers always ask about wine.  These questions are mostly derived from my Wine Basics 101 class which I’ve held or taught for the last 12 years and approximately 16,000 people have attended – if you feel there are other important questions for me to answer or resolve in the book, email me at wine@tastedc.com, thanks:

Top 20 Questions/Comments That New Wine Drinkers Always Make:
1) Are more expensive wines better than cheaper ones?
2) What am I tasting?
3) The legs of wine in a glass tell you if the wine is good or not?
4) How does vintage make a difference?
5) What am I tasting?
6) Why can’t I taste all the things I’m supposed to in a wine or describe them?  What are the nuances of wine?
7) I need to purchase many different kinds of glassware to accentuate the nuances of wine?
8) Rieslings are sweet, so I keep away from sweet wines like that.
9) I prefer wines with cork closures, anyway wines with screwtops are cheap and crappy.
10) You’re supposed to sniff the cork when it’s given to you in a restaurant?
11) White wine with fish and red wine with meat?
12) I need to understand all the great and bad pairings before I can enjoy wine with food?
13) Wine ratings by critics are very objective, so I can just rely on them?
14) Organic wines are better for you and don’t contain sulfites?
15) When I sneeze when I drink wine, it’s because of the added sulfites?
16) Only France(or name a region) makes great wine because of their better location?
17) I can never figure out wine because it’s so confusing with so many labels, regions and confusing information, I’ll never be able to figure it out?

I didn’t quite reach 20, but I’m still working on this – gimme a holler if you think you can add some good ones – cheers!

Charlie “I Drink On the Job” Adler

Gerard Au Naturel

gerard2
I love when famous people scorn the artificiality that exists in so much of the world!  How often do people want to say something negative but fear retribution because: 1) they might hurt the affected party, or 2) (more likely) they’re worried that people will no longer respect/like them and possibly will condemn them? 

Take a recent article in Decanter about French actor-winemaker-restaurateur Gerard Depardieu  who “disdains biodynamics, Jamie Oliver and ‘bullshit industrial wines'”.  The brief description of the upcoming article in Decanter depicts Depardieu as an enemy of the biodynamic movement in France because he considers it to be a poor use of resources available to the winemaker.  Since this is only a description of his upcoming article, it doesn’t go into specifics, but it’s still fun to read about those who don’t shy away from controversy.  Natural, organic and biodynamic wines are better for the sustainability of the earth – right?  If you believe members of the wine “naturalist” movement like Alice Feiring who recently wrote a book called “The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization” you would believe that only
“natural” wines (wines that have not been “over-manipulated” by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides or any conditions set by man such as overuse of oak or sulfites) would be better tasting, better for you, and ultimately make the universe a better place to live?  As much as I enjoyed Ms. Feiring’s point of view in her book, and her very entertaining style, I’m still a skeptic: can you taste the difference in a wine untouched by man’s alleged intervention?  Isn’t wine in fact a man-made product and today’s wines are actually better tasting, with less bacterial issues than ever before? 

To answer my own question–I’m really not sure of the answer, but I think pointing the finger at winemakers that use new technologies to get a product to market that the market actually wants to consume is not in itself a bad thing.  Give the people what they want as the saying goes.  On the other hand, I am TOTALLY impressed by winemakers who attempt to use natural methods such as the phases of the moon and nature’s cycles to make a quality product.  Personally, I grew totally organic vegetables this past summer just for that reason – I know I could have gotten higher yields and had less problems if I had sprayed and used other chemicals and soil agents, but I chose not to..why?  Because the challenge is to work with what nature gives you.  Sure, I could grow massive tomatoes, but I wanted tomatoes that had intense flavors and plants that figured out how to resist disease on their own.  This was a personal decision, not a decision I would suggest on others – if you want to eat organic, natural foods, go for it, I eat a mix of foods from natural to “manufactured”. 

I started with Gerard and ended with my take on the “natural” wine movement’s main motives.  In the end, to each his own, but at a minimum allow those on both sides to express their opinion.  Liberal, conservative, radical, whatever, Gerard has taken a pretty racy unpopular view, heck he even condemns chefs like Jamie Oliver, my God, that’s the Naked Chef (or originally was)!  Gerard, I’ll forego going “au naturel” in order to express, my own beliefs like you have – touche!

Charlie “I Drink On the Job” Adler