In a famous blind tasting a generation back, some California wines trounced the best the French had to offer. The effect was electric. No longer


Terroirist attack

In a famous blind tasting a generation back, some California wines trounced the best the French had to offer. The effect was electric. No longer need American winemakers feel in thrall to the mystique of tradition-bound Bordeaux and Burgundy; in the future we would come up with our own ideas, hew our own path to greatness. The French smiled thinly. Maybe they no longer held absolute sway in the realm of wine, but when it comes to ideas, France would still rule the roost. And so it came to pass, for today American winemakers have grown besotted with a notion that has France embossed all over it: the concept of "terroir." Literally, terroir (pronounced "tear-WAHRRR," with as much gargled Gallic confidence as your epiglottis can manage) means "territory," and for a long time meant no more than that. But during the 19th century, French intellectuals started getting romantic about things rural, while French agronomists started getting scientific about soil. Each adopted terroir for their own purposes. About the time of that blind tasting mentioned above, French oenologists found it convenient to let the two usages merge. You may be able to make good wine, the line went, but you will never be able to emulate (let alone pronounce) our terroir, because that is an agromystical expression of la France profonde. Oh, yeah? Well, the current issue of the impeccably American magazine Wine & Spirits devotes 120 solid pages to "Terroir Demystified." And, not content with rationalizing the term, breaking it down into the specifics of soil, slope, sun, wind, and water that make every vineyard's output a little different from every other's, the editors presume to analyze the terroirs of "25 Great Vineyards of the World," and include not only such 魩nences grises as Chⴥau Lafite and the Domaine de la Roman饭Conti but jumped-up little newcomers like Klipsun Vineyard, sprawled on the sun-baked slopes overlooking picturesque Benton City, Wash. For all the opportunities it offers for pomposity and pretension, terroir deserves to lose its italics and enter the American wine vocabulary, because it expresses something essential. Many fine wines are blended of grapes from several vineyards, but it was terroir that led their makers to choose the fruit and determine its proportions. And when you drink a great single-vineyard like Andrew Will 2000 merlot ($40; selected by Wine & Spirits to express the essence of Klipsun Vineyard fruit), you're experiencing winemaker Chris Camarda's attempt to express in a glass the whole spirit of a particular season and a specific place. Tasting notes from all over: Seattle restaurateur Peter Lewis, quoted in the newsletter of Kermit Lynch Winemerchants: "[A] Viognier from Chateau Grillet or Lys de Volan combines true power with all the femininity of peach fuzz and honeysuckle (the seductive quality of the minute hairs on the back of a woman's thigh in high summer)."

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