Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Terroir at its best...

Oakville Winery, 2008 Zinfandel from Oakville, CA in Napa Valley.

When one thinks Zin, one thinks fruit-forward, jammalicious, reds and blacks from the vine that sugarplum in your mouth; no tannin, smooth and sweet as summer strawberries, right? It can be a little shallow, sure, but the good ones have enough fruit in the basket to be still round and full-bodied. But while the best, or at least the most exemplary of the varietal, can be found (at least in my opinion) in Lodi or Sonoma, this one from Napa was a beautiful illustration of how the land can shape the grape can shape the wine.

So much earth and tobacco, spice, and even cinnamon on the palate, right up front and deep into your swallow. In the most simple terms, it was like a perfect Zin made passionate love to a burly Napa Cab in a dimly lit bar with a soulful man playing saxophone in the background.

I really like the idea of exploring terroir in everything. No seriously, everything...
Orange Juice.

Wine really opened the door for the world in this sense. The concept of terroir has always been there (ask French winemakers from centuries past), but until now, only educated gourmands or those who produced food at its most integral levels knew of it. Most people are accustomed to receiving a processed version of an amalgamation of similar food products. Your Mott's apple sauce, for example, probably contains apples from any number of states, or even countries. In this kind of 'food,' the terroir has been diluted and essentially lost, leaving consumers unaware of how the where of a food can hugely influence how it tastes, for better or for worse.

But with the average eater's renewed interest in where their food comes from, and eating it in the fewest steps from its source, terroir can have some light shed on it for what seems like the first time. Because even back when people knew about terroir, few acknowledged it; there was no need: it was the food it was, you ate it to stay alive and healthy, and it was great when it was delicious. End of story.

So the next time you take a bite of any whole food (or a sip of wine, which, for a beginner, probably has the most potential for such an exercise), keep your antennae up and you are likely to recognize flavors and notes in whatever you're chewing or swallowing, notes that would appear unrelated to the food itself. The more you pay attention, the more you'll taste; and the more you taste, the more you'll want to pay attention.

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