The Terror of Terroir

11 Apr

When I think of wine, I think of terroir: I think of the essence of the land, the air, the sun blended together and refined into a thing of utter and wondrous beauty. An especially well-constructed wine transports me in one sip to the dry fields of Ribera del Duero or the slate of the Mosel, though I certainly have never been to those places.

But who could have imagined that every sip was imparting more than just terroir?

Given everything else that is wrong with the world, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn about the presence of pesticides and other chemicals in wine. Recently, Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) reported a study in which 35 out of 40 bottles of European wine were found to have pesticides–four different pesticides on average but as much as ten in one particularly unfortunate bottle. One of the six organic wines tested also contained trace pesticide residues.

Then again, lest we get too alarmed, it should be noted that a sample set of 40 wines is NOT very large at all. This study from 1999 suggests that no to very little pesticide residue could be found in wine after the vinification, fining, and filtering processes.

(The PAN Europe website does provide citations, so one can do more detailed research if one is so inclined.)

Regardless of whether pesticides are present in many wines–and if present are in concentrations that are harmful to humans–there have always been winemakers that have adhered to natural, “organic” methods of growing grapes. Then again, there are those growers who subscribe to biodynamic farming, where “the farm is viewed as a self-sustaining, self-regulating eco-system.”

Eric Asimov of the New York Times wrote a thought-provoking article on organic and biodynamic wines and the stigma they face. From the article:

“That’s the stigma left over from 15 or 20 years ago, when wines were marketed as organic and weren’t very good,” said Gregory Dal Piaz, the director of customer development for Astor Wines & Spirits in NoHo. “I don’t think it’s the best way to market wine. You market wine because it’s good.”

Recently, there has been a slow, small, but noticeable shift in consumer tendencies towards wines that marketed as organic:

“When I first opened three years back, people did not ask about the wines the same way they asked about the food,” she [Francine Stephens, proprietor of Fanny’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn] said. “It’s definitely changed in the last year. People seem to have made the leap that it’s an agricultural product, which is a big leap, I guess.”

I for one was never really a big fan of organic wines. Early experiences left me with thinking that organic wine was the alcoholic equivalent of Tofurky: a tasteless, New Age, inferior substitute for the real thing. Then I tried wines like the Clairette de Die from Jean-Claude Raspail and the offerings of François Chidaine.

The Clairette de Die is an intoxicating sparkling wine from the Clairette de Die AOC of France made from the muscat blanc à petits grains and clairette grapes. It is sweet, fizzy, and refreshing. It doesn’t taste cheap or saccharine, however–it has a clean sweetness that lends itself well to Thai or, say, to the upcoming hot spring and summer days.

I’ve written many times in the past of François Chidaine. He works in plots of land along the Loire River, primarily in the Montlouis (pronounced “Moh-louie”) but also in the Vouvray (“voo-vray”) appellations.

I love this. He writes: “Wine is born from the vine, not from artificial skills of re-creation in the winery. It is sufficient to start modestly by working the soil.”

To that extent, he doesn’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Rather, he uses goats to eat weeds and keep pests at bay. (They make excellent Easter dinner, so I’ve read.)

I’ve written about his chenin blancs, so I want to end this post with a few notes on his outstanding Touraine sauvignon blanc (retail: $11.99). It is straightforward: extremely bright, pleasantly mouth-puckering, high acidity. Less of a herbal character and more of a citrus character–grapefruit, something tart. A little bit of mineral. Not too tangy, very gentle. Reminded me of another great white, the Pie Franco Rueda verdejo from Blanco Nieva.

As long as I can continue finding delicious, satisfying organic and biodynamic wines, I should be able to drink without having to worry too much about my liver, immune system, or easily-worried Korean parents!

WHERE TO FIND IN SoCAL | You can find the sauvignon blanc at Mission Wines in South Pasadena or Monsieur Marcel at the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market.


2 Responses to “The Terror of Terroir”

  1. Shea April 12, 2008 at 1:58 am #

    Firstly, I just want to say that I really enjoy your writing style. I think you add a pretty unique voice to the wine blogging world and you have a lot of potential. Just post more often!!

    Second, I have a lot of reservations about supposed organic farming and sustainable wines. But, I’ll get into that in a later post on my blog.

    Last, I have definitely noticed the impact of pesticide on wine before, and have even clearly tasted it. The question is, then, what is the difference between terroir and human manipulation. When does the ‘essence’ of a wine come up against the human touch. It’s an interesting question and one that probably needs some extended thought…


  1. François Chidaine Sauvignon Blanc & Pasta with Soft-Shell Crab « Vinicultured: A Wine Blog - June 1, 2008

    […] time–took about 30-35 minutes. I served the pasta with a sliced baguette and, to drink, the Touraine sauvignon blanc from François Chidaine. It was crisp, bracing, with nice acidity and subtle minerality but with a surprising burst of […]

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