Terroir. We’ve all heard the term, but what does it mean and why is there a tasting in London today of Spanish wines based on this uniquely French idea?
The concept of terroir is simply that wine flavour should depend on the environment in which grapes grow. This will include factors like; vineyard climate, slope, sun exposure, soil type etc. It will also include the way the vinesare grown; so the farmer is part of terroir too.
The French have based their whole system of wine labeling on this concept. In France, wine is labeled with the name of where it is grown rather than the name of the grape. In other countries the term is controversial. Australia, for example, tended to prioritise grape variety and winemaker skill over anything to do with place.
One trouble with terroir though is that it has had little scientific basis. The way these factors affect wine has not been understood. What research is starting to show is that vineyards, and cellars, have different populations of microbes. So, it seems possible that vineyards with different microbes will produce different wines. This could account for terroir differences and perhaps explain why organic wines, with their microbially diverse vineyards, can taste more complex.
Another difficulty is that terroir effects are easily hidden. Intensive farming,pesticides, clumsy grape handling, too much sulphur or too much oak are likely to simply mask terroir, producing wines that are acceptable but lacking nuance and complexity. But, as these effects are rolled back by quality focused, modern technique, the true flavour of terroir can be revealed.
Spain has been through a wine revolution in recent years as a new breed of young, internationally-aware winemakers have taken over their fathers vineyards and cellars. Wines have become lighter, fresher and less smothered in oak. In so doing they are perhaps beginning to expose the real terroir of Spain.
This then is the concept of the fashionable Vinateros tasting held today at Tate Modern. It brought together winemakers from across Spain with shared aim of showing wines that reflect where they are from.
There were around two hundred wine on show today from regions across the country. So areas such as; Penedes, Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, Veldeorras, Rueda, Madrid, Toro, Rioja, Navarra, Catalyud, Conca de Barbera, Costers del Segre, Priorat, Montsant, Manchuela, Valencia, Alicante, Jumilla, Malaga and the islands.
This long list represents regions with massive diversity; of temperature, rainfall, elevation, soil type and grape variety. The wines reflect this diversity as you would expect, but there are stylistic threads too.
If there were one word to reflect the tasting as a whole it would be freshness. This is a word the winemakers use themselves. They use it to mean wines that taste alive in the glass; sometimes with dominant fruit, sometimes highly mineral, sometimes with oak, but always with vibrant acidity, elegance, delicacy and balance. Freshness is a good summary of the characteristics that allow the other flavours to show through, for terroir to be revealed.
Another common theme would be texture. The sensation wine gives as it passes through the mouth is a large but often overlooked part of its pleasure. For reds the trend today was for relatively light body and extract, allowing the tannins and acidity to show through. One winemaker even described the texture of his wine as sandy, reflective of the soil on which it is grown.
Below, I’ve listed some of the wines that stood out for me today. But the real pleasure was to find so many expressive, fascinating and deliciously drinkeable wines in one place. It will be fascinating to see how much further Spain can gobut today’s tasting shows clearly a great direction in which to go.
If ever there is a wine that is out of fashion it is Cava. Tasting a range from Raventos I Blanc it makes you wonder why. Less acidic than champagne or English sparkling wine but with generosity of fruit, richness and lovely developing, bready notes the de la Finca 12 stood out.
From the wonderful roving winemakers of Envinate a cracking pair of wines from the Canaries. A white from local grape Tagnan Blanco 15 which is stony and herbal with savoury fennel and celery edges. The 14 red from Tagnan Tinto was light, and delicate with sappy raspberry fruit. Both delicious, both very unlike most wines you would ever taste from Spain.
From Danie Landi in Mentrida the taut Uvas de la Ira 15, with it’s perfumed nose, masses of fruit and a crackling energy. Like a really good Pinot Noir it belies the extreme climate of its home. Altaroses 15 is a 100% Garnacha wine from Montsant made by Cellers Joan d’Anguerra. It is a low extract style with light colour, low tannin and masses offruit. Vibrant and joyful in the glass, it could not be more different to the heavily alcoholic garnacha most will be familiar with.
Ribeira del Duero is home to some of Spain’s most expensive wines but the family owned Quinta Milu’s Vina Viejas 13 is a food friendly, savoury mid-weight joy of a wine, it made me think if well aged Bordeaux from a cool year.