Beginner's Guide to Wine Pt. 1: Terroir
For centuries, France has been at the epicenter of winemaking with many of our well-known grape varieties originating or becoming popular in that country years ago. You like Cabernet Sauvignon? It came from France. How about Chardonnay? Yup, still French. Oh, you thought Malbec was South American? Think again, it's French too! The moral of the story is that it is impossible to understand wine in any capacity without, at least, a basic understanding of the French concept of terroir (tehr-wah).
Without a direct English translation, terroir loosely refers to all of the climatic, geological and geographical nuances that defines a place and this idea is on full display right smack on the front of most French and European wine bottles. See, a grape is a fruit that comes from a plant. This concept seems simple but bear with me. Not all places can support any type of plant. Try growing a pineapple tree in Canada. You can't. Or try growing an olive tree in Montana. Nope, not happening. Their respective terroirs just won't support it and in every major wine region in France, the best wines come from grapes that match the terroir perfectly. An extreme example is to look at the region of Burgundy in east-central france where centuries ago, monks painstakingly catalogued all of the best vineyards and amazingly enough, these classifications still hold true today!
Living in the United States, it's become increasingly difficult to have a connection to the land which provides us our food. Most of us, don't live near the farms that grow our food so therefore, we are oblivious to the importance of knowing exactly its place of origin. And if you don't know/care where your tomatoes come from, then you probably aren't interested in the origin of your wine either. For Americans raised on food products modified and grown in laboratories, the concept of terroir may seem mystical to some and downright foolish to others but I guarantee you that once you embrace this idea in wine and food in general, you will gain a deeper appreciation for complexities of the natural world in which you live.
Stay tuned for Beginner's Guide to Wine Pt. 2: French Wine Laws to learn how read a wine label!