Talk about wine to anyone in France and, before long, you will hear the word ‘terroir’. The local climate, soil, slope of the land and grape variety or varieties planted all contribute to the terroir and some include local traditions and winemaking in the mix, too. In that broader sense, terroir is what makes one wine different from another.
Given that, it’s surprising that you rarely hear the word used by growers outside France. They’re aware of it, of course – anyone who has ever tried to grow anything, either professionally or for fun, knows that certain plants grow in certain places and not in others – they just don’t seem to use the word.
So, I was interested when, a few years back, the Chilean producer Undurraga introduced a range of wines under the ‘Terroir Hunter’ name. Was this simply a bit of marketing or was there something behind the name? The first example I tried – a Grenache blend, I think – showed clearly that these were quality wines and I’ve looked out for them ever since.
The latest is a blend of 85% Cabernet Franc with 15% Merlot (Wine Society, £14.95) from the Catemito vineyard described on the back label as being on shallow, sandy clay soil on an alluvial terrace overlooking the Maipo River. The terroir concept continues by noting that the local climate is temperate with cool breezes encouraging the slow ripening of the grapes.
And the taste? A lovely herby, green pepper nose greets you (my wife thought ‘spearmint’) followed on the palate with rich, dark blackberry and chocolate flavours. There are still some well-integrated tannins there even though the wine is already more than 5 years old and a super, long, dry finish. One slight reservation: the 14% alcohol shows through a bit making the wine a little ‘hot’ but, with the right food – red meat, game, mushrooms, aubergines or tasty hard cheeses all spring to mind – and decanting in advance to clear the sediment, this is a real winner and a credit to the use of the term ‘terroir’.