Tom at fermentations has written an interesting post in which he deals with a number of interesting questions regarding style and terroir.
1-‘shouldn't the traditional wine style that is associated with a region be seen as part of the terroir’
2- ‘Isn't a desire to see wines be "terroir-driven" just an aesthetic philosophy?’
3-‘ Couldn't a wine lover, with just as much care and enthusiasm for wine, take the position that style-driven wines are on an equal plane with terroir-driven wines?’
I would agree that these two concepts should be considered with equal worth, though on different terms. From my understanding of the notion of ‘terroir,’ I would have it include all those factors that are beyond the control of human intervention, and that influence the ‘raw material’ that the wine-maker has to work with when it comes time to ferment his wine. These include meso and micro-climates, soil and sub-soil structures of which indigenous yeasts and micro organisms, and topography.
These factors are all constants and to my understanding can create subtle differences between wines made under similar conditions and ‘exigence,’ even if the vineyards are but a few miles from one another.
It is here that style comes into play. How a particular winemaker works his vines, the degree of ripeness he seeks, how he deals with fermentation, etc.., have a very profound, and without a doubt, a greater effect upon the wine that we guzzle back on Friday evenings. While there is little doubt that there is a general movement towards a riper, ‘fruit forward’ style, this component is in constant flux. For example, in the early 90’s, Burgundy went through a faze of heavily extracted, dense, and oakey wines. Over the past few years, we have seen a number of younger winemakers move in the complete opposite direction. There is room for all and it is this diversity of styles that make wine so interesting.
It is here also that we as consumers value and judge the style of the winemaker. On a personal level (and that is the beauty of blogdom), I appreciate much more those winemakers who work to expose those subtle differences that are a product of his particular terroir. I love ripeness, but I find that the heavily extracted style pushed by Parker and Rolland tend to mask subtle aromas and flavours at the expense of nuance. It is my chief complaint against much of the wines of the New World, that they are too massive, too intense. And as I see wine as an accessory to eating, I find that they are not delicate enough for the majority of foods. But that is my stylistic penchant.
So am I thus a style–driven ‘terroir aesthetic?’ I think the answer to question 3 is that ‘terroir-driven’ wines must be regarded as a style of winemaking. But in the end, isn’t it just about making great wine?