The Science of Terroir Has a Long Way to Go

wine scienceDebates about the existence of “terroir” are among the most hotly contested in the wine world, with defenders of the idea insisting that some wines display the distinctive flavor of a particular vineyard while skeptics insist it is all a myth. It would help settle this debate if scientists were able to discover distinct chemical patterns in wines from particular vineyards or regions.

This study by a team of French and German scientists is of particular interest. Using mass spectrometry, they compared Pinot Noir  from two vineyards in Burgundy’s Cote de Beaune and two from  Cote de Nuits across three vintages looking for clear differences in wines from different vineyards or regions.

What did they find? Well, next to nothing really. As reported by Wine-O-Scope,

The Côte de Beaunes wines weren’t as a group chemically distinguishable from the Côte de Nuits. And one of the Côte de Beaunes wines grouped more closely with the other vineyards’ 2007 vintages even in 2008 and 2009, though the other wines were roughly similar by vintage.

Although, interestingly, they did find that as the wines aged a few similarities started to reveal themselves leading the researchers to hypothesize that perhaps terroir emerges only after aging.

As Wine-O-Scope notes,

…the wines from each vineyard weren’t more similar to each other than to the other wines from the same year or the same region, which seems to quite clearly say that these chemical profiles can’t be used to distinguish local terroir.

Of course, this negative result proves very little. The results of mass spectrometry show that there are 7016 distinct compounds in wine; only 5% are compounds we have identified. Since we don’t know how to categorize these compounds we’re not sure what patterns to look for.  Clearly, we know too little to draw any conclusions except that wine is enormously complex—but we already know that.

One comment

  1. Wine and terroir, is like a higher power and faith… You just gotta believe! Actually, I am exasperated by both discussions. It seems to me, their is empirical evidence in both cases. Not to belittle the latter discussion with the former, but seeing the light is always in the eye of the beholder!

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