The Concept of Terroir

All wine drinkers I think understand the concept of terroir.  Most basic but accurate definition of terroir is “somewhereness”.  It’s that magic of how that somewhereness of a particular place; region, vineyard, soil, sunlight, weather, climate, surrounding plant life and a thousand other elements all combind to give wine its unique taste.  Wine drinkers have studied it for centuries.

Recently I’ve noticed something about myself.  As my appreciation and ability to taste wine has developed, those abilities to taste flavors and detect nuances have been transferred to other foods as well.  So is the concept of Terroir transferable to other food products?  And is the concept of terroir really a sense?

The first place I notice this was in cigars.  Or maybe I have the chicken before the egg because I have smoked cigars far longer than I have appreciated wine.  My taste progression with cigars developed very similar to my developing tastes for wine.  I use to smoke anything, think “cheap”.  As the price went up I discovered my taste prefered fuller body tobaccos.  I liked Maduro and Corojo cigars.  Prefered Dominican cigars over Honduras, didn’t like Cubans.  For a mild smoke I like Canary Island tobacco.  I never heard the word TERROIR while smoking cigars, but there it was.  The tobaccos had a “somewhereness” and today I understand its Terroir.

Next came coffee.  Until recently any coffee would do, whatever was on sale, it didn’t matter. Now, again I’m changing.  Maxwell house doesn’t cut it anymore.  Dunkin Donuts, you’ve lost that loving feeling.  I now have been known  sneak into  Starbucks to purchase Sumatra.  Like cigars, I like bold over medium.  Dark Roasts over regular coffee, and I drink my Espresso black!  To a lesser extent than wine or cigars, terroir still has a huge impact on the taste of coffee.  But, other things are entering the picture.  Freshness is important to my coffee, I buy beans and grind them at home. I make smaller batches, I like to percolate rather than drip my coffee.  I’ve come a long way from the guy with a coupon for Folgers. For me this is the same thing as decanting and having specific glasses for specific wines.  I use to drink wine from red solo cups!

What has improved I think is my sense of smell.  Or more precisely, I have educated myself to be able to smell better.  Sounds more like a hygiene problem than a wine appreciation thing.  What I’m saying is we can only taste three things sweet, sour, and bitter.  But we can detect and Identify thousands of smells.  Try this experiment; hold your nose and eat a jellybean, tell me what you taste.  80 to 90 percent of what we say we taste is really aroma.  Again, the aroma of coffee and cigars often determine my enjoyment.  If I can’t smell the coffee, I can’t taste the coffee.

Where’s the beef?  This is another food group that has greatly changed for me based on terroir.  I can taste the difference between frozen and fresh meat.  Big deal so can everyone, but I couldn’t before, or maybe I just didn’t care.  But I think another sense is at work here, sight!  I can see a difference in the color of frozen vs fresh.  I also prefer to buy meats grown closer to home, local beef tastes better than beef shipped into the area.  I like Texas and Nebraska beef the best if it’s fresh.  Again its terroir at play.

I’m out of my league when it comes to vegetables, so I will defer to my resident expert Josephine who has nothing good to say about wine except that for her, cheaper is better and that just about everything I say is wrong, but on terroir, she’s a believer.  She’s from Sicily and is a great cook, but she will tell you that food she made when she was in Sicily tastes far different from the food she makes here.  Same recipe, same ingredients, far different results.  She agrees it terrior.  She notices it in tomatoes.  The only tomato that tastes like a tomato to her are the ones she eats when we go to Sicily.  Everything else ranges from tasteless to awful.  For her, it’s grow your own, buy local, buy at a supermarket only if you are starving!

I expect that cheese will be next. I find chees more confusing than wine.  But my interest is growing.

So, in appreciation of local terroir let’s drink a wine grown and made here in Connecticut.  The wine is from Sharpe Hill Vineyard in Pomfret Connecticut.  The wine is Red Seraph.  It’s a blend of Estate grown St. Croix and Merlot, I suspect they bought the Merlot juice and fermented it.  St. Croix is their specialty it grows pretty well here in Connecticut and the winemaker Howard Bursen in determined to make a killer red here in Connecticut, I’d say this is a pretty good start.

When drinking this wine I was thinking Chianti.  The color was dark red/ purple  it reminded me of Chianti.  Aroma was fresh fruit and most notable strawberries.  One thing I really loved in the wine  was  the nose held, it never faded, for me that’s a sign of a good wine.  Flavor once again I got cherries and strawberries.  I love dry wine and this one did not disappoint.  Good mouth feel, and I thought balance was pretty good.  The folks I shared the wine with were all surprised that the wine was from Connecticut and how really good it tasted.  It’s on the top of my CT red list.  Give it a try.

Let me know if your wine appreciation has transferred over to other food groups, I’m curious. What do you think sense or concept of terroir?

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