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Terroir—And Other Gifts To The Blogosphere

By Charles Olken

There are, as I have often admitted, a number of wine blogs that I read faithfully and many that I read from time to time. One that I look at every day is that of Steve Heimoff, in part because he is one of the few credible bloggers who posts most days of the week. Most of the rest of us are now on a once or twice a week schedule since the list of topics to discuss is somewhat exhausted—especially when hundreds of scribes are doing the exhausting.

Still, friend Heimoff today took on the topic of terroir in a roundabout way since he was asked about it in a meeting up in Portland where he was speaking to a bunch of friends of his employer, Jackson Family Wines.

The line that got my attention was not about Steve’s definition of terroir, with which I disagree by the way, and about which I can also say that there is no one definition to which we all agree in any event, but rather to his concluding comments that debates about terroir are part of the winewriter’s full employment program.

And that comment got me to wondering about how many such topics exist—the so-called “old chestnuts” to which we can go back time and time again.

Certainly, “terroir” and the debates about how much of what we define as terroir is related to the hand/hands of the winemaking community is a good example. Wine has changed much over the years, and whatever wine tasted like in the mid-1800s is not much related to what wine tastes like today. One example will suffice. Some years ago, on my first “wine” trip to Europe, I spent some time in Bordeaux and was shown a monograph that contained analyses of wines from the 1860s. By then, of course, Bordeaux had already been divided into quality groupings, and the statistics were related to the technical analyses of the wines known as First Growths. The alcohols were all around 9% and the acidities were above 0.90 with volatile acidity substantially beyond today’s legal limits.

So, whatever was expected of “site” back then was nothing like what is expected today. Still, there were expectations then and there are expectations now, and the endless commentary about what is right, wrong, expected, naturally occurring or occurring through winemaking intervention fuels the on-going debates about terroir.

Well, “terroir” is not the only endless loop of winewriting. Here, without further explanation are a few others that standout as topics that invite writers to write again and again and readers apparently to read again and again.

--What is more important: variety or site?
--Is the 100-point system a boon to winelovers or Lucifer in the flesh?
--Has oak spoiled Chardonnay?
--Are Euro-palates superior to New World palates, or do the former think that way because they don’t know better?
--Do Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator have too much power?
--Is Robert Parker Lucifer in the flesh?
--Are sommeliers the new “gatekeepers” of wine?
--Are the Millennials doomed to a lifetime of beer and cheap Eastern European and Spanish wines or will their palates discover the wines that we grey-hairs hold so dear?
--Will climate change turn Oregon into the next Napa Valley?

And, finally, how long before the California winewriting fraternity is going to move north—and will we have to go all the way to Canada?


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Sommeliers as "gatekeepers"
by Bob Henry
Posted on:5/21/2016 2:07:24 AM


The wine press/wine bloggers overstate the influence of restaurant sommeliers/wine stewards.  (And restaurant sommeliers overstate their own importance.)

I would surmise that most wine enthusiasts dine out between one and three times each month.  (Restated: less than weekly.)

How many dining establishments have "credible" sommeliers/wine stewards?

I would surmise a single digit percentage.  (And mostly in large urban areas.)

How many wine enthusiasts bring their own wine to restaurants to accompany their meal?

I would surmise a high double digit percentage.  (At least in an accommodating wine-making state like California.)

The opportunity for these sommeliers/wine stewards to sway wine enthusiast diners on selecting a wine from their "curated list" is neglible.

We know what we like, and no one is going to dissuade us!  (Particularly from drinking our own bottle.)

The true "gatekeepers" are wine store salespersons.

Salespersons who rabid wine enthusiasts see on an almost weekly basis.  Salespersons who willingly open bottles of wine to sample the public.  Salespersons who control access to "cult" collectible wines - and whose friendship needs to be cultivated by wine enthusiasts.

Wine stores represent the strongest "touch point" between wineries and the general public.

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