Terroir

For the continuation of Red Wine 201, Merlot, a smooth, easy-drinking “red fruit festival” of a grape, seems a good choice. It’s popular, delicious, and it’ll help us question the idea of terroir.

Chateau Pétrus, from the Pomerol appellation of Bordeaux, for example, is mostly crafted from Merlot. Although ordinary wine has long been produced here, this fabulous one has only been at the summit of the wine hierarchy for the last 25 years. If it really were terroir – the combination of soil, climate and place that determines the taste of wine – then the wine would presumably always have shown more promise.

Science tells us that there is no direct transfer of the taste of the soil into the wine. For instance, the “flint” or “mineral” taste in wines that’s usually ascribed to minerals in the soil, is actually due to a sulphur molecule produced in the winemaking process.

Though place obviously affects the taste of wine, winemaking and its fashions likely play a larger role in determining what’s in your glass.

Christian Moueix, responsible for Pétrus, has made a 2005 Pomerol (#903013) for $29.95. It’s worth splurging to get an idea of the sandalwood-infused magnificence of fruit that’s possible. A very different Merlot from Australia’s cool climate Orange region is Climbing Merlot 2005 (#58545) at $17.95. It has intensity, and a spicy, sour-fruit charm.

And finally, Casa Lapostolle’s Chilean Merlot 2006 (#405712) for $16.85 is different again, and this may be because much of the Merlot in that country is in fact Carmenère, another Bordeaux grape.


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