Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Launch of Terroir Study

Terroir is a page dedicated to tasting the "terroir" in a wine through pictorial, literary, and sensory exploration. This word, terroir, instills magical visions in my head that simply swirl into clouds of confusion. Big question marks pop up each time I consider the concept of terroir. Anyone who has blind-tasted knows terroir manifests itself in the aromas and flavors of a wine. I can pinpoint a wine from Italy in a heartbeat and smell a Virginia wine from across the room, an aroma I definitely termed "Virgina Twang." Smell a red wine from South Africa next to an Australian Shiraz, and then tell me terroir doesn't exist.

Terroir encompasses every aspect of nature a wine grape experiences like vintage, soil, microclimate, mesoclimate, topography, viticulture, geography, precipitation, sun exposure, wind, you name it. However, the expression of terroir shrouds itself under a veil of mysticism. So, I have decided to research this link between place and taste in order to document concrete descriptions versus elusive references to minerality, earth, and the vague word, Terroir.

Simply stated, Provence fascinates me. I close my eyes and transcend to a whole new world. Craggy outcroppings of jagged mountains resting among majestic purple plains of lavender. Times of chivalry and warlords flicker, displaced with images of King Arthur and Guenevere. Endemic wines evoke impressions of land braced by sea and alpine climes. Artists such as Cezanne, Van Gogh, & Dante depict a land of rugged beauty.

I set out to taste a number of Provencal red wines the other day, below my notes follow. I will continue to post as I source these wines; however, their discoveries prove challenging as distribution of Provencal reds remains very limited in the U.S.

Provence harbors two principal soil types: calcareous limestone and quartz. The soils of the northern and western hills and ranges consist largely of limestone and clay, while the eastern regions contain quartz. Soil type corresponds to the vegetation present. Garriguewhich grows on limestone, is a classic wine descriptor that refers as much to the soil as to the resinous herbs that grow upon it.  Maquis refers to a scrub that thrives on soils rich in quartz.

Les Baux de Provence
Vineyards surround the village of Les Baux, a 13th century fortress perched on a rocky plateau in the Alpilles Mountains approximately 800 feet above sea level. The town itself was named after its very appearance "Baou"--a Provencal term for rocky outcropping. The AOC Les Baux de Provence lies in the western most half of Provence just southeast of Avignon.
The soils in Baux are limestone and rich in Bauxite, a mineral that was named after this village and is used to extract aluminum. In reference to terroir, this area is extremely hot and resides next to the Val d'Enfer (Hell Valley). The wines are all organic, mostly produced by biodynamic practices due to the climate and the beneficial impact of the Mistral, a cold, dry north wine that reduces humidity and temperatures during the sweltering summer months. Reds must contain a minimum of 60% of at least two of the following grapes: Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault. Mourvedre, Carignan, Counoise and Cabernet Sauvignon can also be blended.

2007 Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence, Provence, France
Approximate 30% Grenache blended with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, all stainless steel fermentation--interesting considering the tannins are so formidable. First impression, barnyard funk, reductive nature of syrah playing out, but extremely aromatic wafting layers of garrigue, lavender, sandalwood, leather straight off the horses back, black pepper, intense red fruits. In the mouth, chewy with a faint sensation of powdered sugar, bracing acidity, gripping. Few minutes later the funk blew off and opened up. So soily on the nose and the palate, intriguing tastes of chalky minerality. Aromas of garrigue and black olive intoxicating. Great wine!