So, when you hear that a wine expresses its “terroir,” what does that mean exactly? It means that you should be able to taste certain characteristics of its home if it is a well-made, carefully handled wine. That is the difference between a small-batch hand made wine and a mass produced wine, but more on that another time.
When you taste a wine, do you feel like it is balanced? Is there some sourness (“raciness” or “acid” or “mouthwatering crispness”)? Are there flavor characteristics that balance out the acidity? Fruit, floral aromas, minerals – which can often give wine a faint saltiness, herbaceousness? Is there any sweetness in the wine? Does it feel a bit hot on your palate in a way that you know you are drinking alcohol? Is that in balance with the other sensations or does it overwhelm the wine? Is the taste after swallow pleasant or do you detect a lingering bitterness? If so, is the bitterness a welcome sensation? And most importantly, does it please your palate?
Each of these questions potentially addresses a different aspect of terroir. If you detect acidity, it could very well be underripe grapes. But it could also indicate cool nights that enhance the development of acids in the grape, which is a desirable trait. If you taste some sugars, it could be that it is a low alcohol wine where the fermentation was stopped in order to preserve some sugar or it could mean that is made with grapes that received a great deal of warmth and sunlight and were able to ripen to a great degree. If you taste minerality, it could be that the wine was made in a cool climate using neutral vessels such as stainless steel or concrete or it could mean it was a coastal wine that somehow expresses the wet stones and salty breezes of its home. If the alcohol is well integrated, even at high levels, the wine will taste round rather than prickly. If you detect the alcohol level right away, you know it is unbalanced. So each aspect of a wine can have multiple explanations but you can learn a great deal about it from taking a minute to savor all the sensations and smells and tastes it imparts. And you can decide whether this wine has individual character and interest or if it is made to cater to the consistency of certain palates.