The taste of "terroir"

I am here making reference to the blog of viticulture critic Gianluca Mazzella, whose post in Il fatto quotidiano has inspired me to respond and intervene. He has taken as his point of departure an interview with Soldera of Case Basse, who, when asked whether or not there is such a thing as an “American taste” for wine, responded that the question is empty of significance, that there is no sense in referring to the taste of a market, and that there is only a taste for each variety of wine: a taste for Brunello, a taste for Barolo. I, however, would say that American taste is determined by the habits of the population, where in their imagination the flavor must be intense and direct, distinguishing nuances among so many choices is rather difficult for the average American. It is for this reason that when a barricato (oak-aged wine) is sweetened and made more aromatic through the addition of vanilla or tannins it is rendered more approachable. I believe that what Soldero wanted to say is that the important thing is not what the market wants, but rather the valorization of the taste intrinsic to a particular wine. And with this I would agree. But it is necessary to keep in mind that things change with time – types of work, foods, usage – and so also taste for wine can take on diverse new facets.

Of course, we must not lose sight of the soul of wine, that is the “terroir”. It is not a simple task to respect this factor, especially when technological abuses are rampant. Forty years ago, in fact, it was possible to identify Barolo wines from different areas by color alone. The factors of production were however similar: maceration, vinification temperature was not regulated, the kind of roasting and age of the barrels, the shapes of the vineyards, the clones… Now wine producers can chose from an infinite number of options, thanks to technology and research, so that the soul of the wine can be better interpreted, but also very quickly damaged. There are technologies that eliminate the soul of the wine by standardizing and industrializing it. These are represented by gum arabic, scented tannins, and a large part of the oenological “junk” that gets put on the market to please consultants, multinationals and the owners of unwitting companies. Perhaps this is how to get closer to the idea of the famed “American taste”. But now there are also the Chinese, so what do we do? Chinese taste? No, there is nothing to worry about there. At least for the Barolo, the name is enough to inebriate and satisfy – this is the intrinsic power of “terroir” that is imposed on all the rest and on the producers. We must do everything to defend and respect it.