The “Dirty” Side of Wine
There’s a lot to learn when it comes to classifying wine.
From the many varieties of grape to the various geographic regions of production, from different traditional methods of harvest and fermentation to the storage and aging process… there are many variables beyond red, white or rose. And now wine connoisseurs have found another factor to consider.
Now, we don’t mean terroir. Let’s take the WineFolly definition.
Terroir is how a particular region’s climate, soils and aspect (terrain) affect the taste of wine. Some regions are said to have more ‘terroir’ than others.
By that explanation, soil is only a small part of the bigger picture that is terroir. Climate, terrain, and tradition round out the category. But this new trend is focusing specifically on the actual soil.
Bloomberg reports that “soil type is the latest way to classify wines”. And some wineries have taken to featuring the local rocks (the true base of any soil) right on the bottle.
“Soil is making a comeback,” says natural wine high priestess Alice Feiring, whose new book, The Dirty Guide to Wine, comes out in June.
So if you want to get down and dirty with your wine choices, what do you need to know? Really, short of sampling a mouthful of actual soil here and there, how will you know what you’re supposed to be tasting? Here’s a simplified cheat sheet!
Alluvial soil is a fertile mix of silt, gravel, and sand that gives wines like those from the Napa Valley floor their richness. With good nutrients retention and water availability, it leads to vines that produce opulent wine.
Bedrock granite is high in quartz content, and promotes “edgy” wine structure and flavor. This is because the fast-draining rock forces the vines to push their roots deeper than other soils.
Unlike granite, limestone was created by fossilized shell. Wines tend toward a minerally flavor when grown in this chalky soil.
The sand and flint makeup of silex soil lends a smokiness and an earthy flavor to wines grown in it.
Slate not only absorbs the heat quickly, it retains the warmth in its broken slabs. This allows even grapes grown in cold climates to fully ripen. Slate grown grapes produce crisp, refreshing wines.
Volcanic soils contain basalt, pumice, and lava ash, and are found anywhere in the world that there has been volcanic activity. Wines from this soil are often dark and smoky in flavor, with higher acidity.
So… what do you think? Do we need new labels with pictures of the rocks under the vineyard?