Wine 101: Terroir

Wehlener Sonnenuhr on the Mosel River

Wehlener Sonnenuhr on the Mosel River

On a bottle of wine there is so much information, with some items being extremely important while some meet just meet legal requirements.

Over the next five Wine 101 blogs I will explain five of the most important wine concepts in the world: terroir, vintage, wine region, producer, and wine maker.

When you combine all five terms you can make amazing wines like the 2005 Chateau Petrus. But who has $5,000 to spend on a bottle of wine? There are some really good selections on the market today under $30 that incorporate all five concepts. First up, terroir:

No wine producer would fail to mention the impact terroir has on making wine. Terroir is French for "soil" but means so much more in the wine world. Many of the best wine regions have rather poor soil with few nutrients. Bordeaux has gravel, the Mosel Valley in Germany has slate, and chalky, fossil soil is found in Champagne. The poor soil forces vines to travel deep into the ground to find water and nutrients, which help create more concentrated wines.

Drainage is another critical aspect of terroir. By planting vines on steeper slopes, the water can drain properly and rot does not occur as often. In the Cote Rotie, in the Northern Rhone, the best sites are on terraces, which allow for perfect drainage and keep the soil from washing down the slopes.

Think of terroir as a GPS system, as one site is perfect for grapes while 100 feet away no vines are planted. Some of the best locations on the planet are Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa Valley, the Mosel Valley, the Rhone, and Piedmont. The best vineyard sites in these areas face south or southwest, which allows the grapes to receive maximum sun throughout the day. In the Mosel Valley in Germany, the importance of location is second to none. An area that faces south will get the reflection off the Mosel River, which helps ripen the grapes, and a few rows over you will have a Spatlese wine (higher level) vs. a Kabinett wine. In the world of wine, certain locations will create great wine, while others are too cold, humid and lack enough sunlight. Also, locating the best elevation is critical. Achaval Ferrer makes one of the best malbecs in the world, called Altamira, and the vineyard site is at 3,400 feet above sea level. Wineries will study the lay of the land and determine what elevation in a given vineyard site will work best for premium wine.

The overall climate is studied extensively before planting grapes such as chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah. The first important factor is temperature. During the growing season the vines need temperatures between the 70s and 90s to create the best wines in a given vintage. Too cold and the grapes have trouble producing adaquate levels of sugar, too hot and the grapes can overripen. It also has to be dry, low humidity and hopefully no precipitation during harvest, which can produced thinner wines. One of the best climates in the world lies in the eastern side of Washington State within the boundaries of the Columbia Valley. The Red Mountain Region receives less then 10 inches of rain a year, and the winery can always irrigate if necessary.

Terroir is an important term in the wine world, and many wine makers will tell you that great wine is made in the vineyard.

The following wines are terroir driven wines that are affordable and available at Haskell's on sale through May 1.

2008 Dr. Loosen "Dr. L" Mosel Riesling $8.95 I can't say enough about this wine over the last few years, as it is a perfect wine for a hot summer day featuring apple, pear, slate and honey. Medium finish and good acidity. 90 points

2005 Chateau de Maligny 1er Cru Fourchaume Chablis $24.95 Chablis is a region in Burgundy and features 100 percent chardonnay. The 2005 is a great vintage and this wine is perfect with seafood. The aromas are shell, lemon, and apple, and it picks up some interesting mineral qualities on the palate. 90 points

2007 Oregeny Green Valley Pinot Noir $21.95 A great pinot noir from California that showcases spices, strawberries, and floral notes on the nose and palate. This wine is going to pair with a large variety of foods. 90 points

2005 Bodegas Castano Hecula Yecla Monastrell $9.95 A solid Spanish wine made from the monastrell grape variety and featuring dark fruits, spices, earth, and plenty of intensity. For $10 this wine delivers. 88 points

2006 Conquista Reserva Mendoza Malbec $13.95 One of my favorite malbec wines under $25. This is a fruit-forward style wine with cherry, plum, and floral notes. On the palate the wine picks up some spices and oak. Medium finish. Enjoy with a burger. 90 points


John Glas