The Terror Of Writing About Terroir (February Monferrato Moves)

Vinted on March 15, 2017 binned in Italian Wine, on the road

Monferrato grapesAs a wine-scribe-type-guy, I absolutely despise writing about terroir.

If there is another term (aside from “optimal ripeness“) that is more flippantly overused in the wine business than terroir, I am unaware of it. In fact, its overuse – and the fear that it engenders – is so ingrained in me that I am incapable of typing the word terroir without italicizing it. As if, somehow, calling further attention to my use of it will protect me from the madness surrounding its misuse.

Yeah, good luck with that, right?

I was asked to tackle the concept – in writing – for my Monferrato gig, and, since I am supposedly a professional and all of that, I couldn’t say “no, thanks, I’m good.”

And so I offer you my humble take on what is often the least humble notion in wine; including why I specifically despise writing about it, why I disagree with the common English translation definitions of the word, why the word terroir shouldn’t be used as often as it is, and, fianlly, why I think that Northern Italian Barbera truly has a legitimate claim on its use. Check out the full essay on







  • Randy Caparopso

    You’re right, Joe, and thanks for provoking some thought. Re: Use of the word terroir can be terrifying, which is why there is a tendency to overthink its usage. When we appreciate European wine, for instance, we generally accept that there are fundamental differences between a Chablis and Meursault, a Cote-Rotie a Chianti and a Montalcino, a Steinberger and a Scharzhofberger, etc. We don’t have to cite “terroir” as a factor because the differentiations are implicit, apriori, irrefutable.

    However, since most Americans drink and appreciate American wines, terroir related factors are fairly foreign. Entire generations have been taught, and are now accustomed, to appreciating American wines in terms of varietal character, brand styles, or else the artistry of a winemaker. Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that more and more American wines are being fashioned with the assumption that varietal character, brand and winemaker input is less important than expression of where a wine is grown — place, single vineyards, specific blocks within vineyards. When that happens, all bets are off. Up becomes down, what’s “bad” becomes “good,” and vice-versa.

    Simply put, when vineyards dictate perception of quality, old standards fly out the window; and yes, numerical ratings suddenly seem superfluous, illogical. At that point you know longer need to worry about the use of the word “terroir” because there is no use for it except to explain it to someone like a stranger who doesn’t know rock ‘n roll. It becomes implicit, apriori, irrefutable. Thank goodness, this is happening as we speak, whether or not the old farts are liking it.

    • 1WineDude

      Well stated, Randy! Thanks.

The Fine Print

This site is licensed under Creative Commons. Content may be used for non-commercial use only; no modifications allowed; attribution required in the form of a statement "originally published by 1WineDude" with a link back to the original posting.

Play nice! Code of Ethics and Privacy.

Contact: joe (at) 1winedude (dot) com





Sign up, lushes!

Enter your email address to subscribe and get all the good stuff via email.

Join 36,930 other subscribers