Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Proof of terroir

My recent interest in malbec has led me to discover that vintners in California and in France have started producing their own malbecs. Those in France naturally claim that it's the original home of the malbec grape. Forget that they virtually gave up on that grape a long long time ago.

Argentina produces a stunning wine from the malbec grape grown in the high altitudes of the Mendoza region. So now everyone wants to bring back their version of malbec. Of course, there are folks out there who think that terroir is a bunch of nonsense. They suggest that it's all up to the grape and the vintner. So they plant some on rootstock in California; but the malbec grapes in Mendoza are on their original roots before Phylloxera. Now, I wonder if the malbec in Bordeaux was transplanted onto American root stock. I'll have to look that up. I think it would have been.

The original home of malbec in France was in the region called Cahors, midway between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Not many people know that Malbec hails from here. Cahors has two prevailing climates, Atlantic and Mediterranean. During the summer, it is humid in the morning and dry in the afternoon. This is good for maturing and concentrating the juices. Although winemaking here can be traced back to the 1300s, the region suffered a serious setback in the Phylloxera epidemic. Regions such as Bordeaux and Languedoc, which produced wine in large quantities, took drastic measures to protect their industry. Cahors was effectively shut out of the large scale market. As a result, and thanks to Argentina's success, small vintners have been able to return to the tradition and re-establish their identity with malbec. But how do these wines compare with those from Argentina and California?

Along come some scientists who decide to scientifically analyze wines from Argentina and California. They try to control for as many factors as possible including the winemaking 'recipe', but some like climate could not be controlled. They conducted sensory analysis at the UC Davis. The Academic Wino anayzed the results and concluded:

  • "Overall, there were more sensory descriptors noted for Malbec wines from the Mendoza region of Argentina compared with California Malbecs, indicating that Argentinian Malbecs have increased complexity compared with California Malbecs."*

So there you go. Evidence that terroir not only exists and but also makes a difference in the human response to wine. They did not analyze the soil chemistry and they did not include wines made from French grapes, so there's room for improvement with a follow-on study.  But I find it fascinating that the concept of terroir is not simply accepted.