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Terroir -- tare-wahr

I attended a Christmas party thrown by the Women Who Wine networking group a few weeks ago. The turn out was hearty and the hostess' large kitchen and living room were packed solid with wine drinkers; you could barely navigate the obligatory bottles of wine brought by each participant.

I decided to grab a few carefully selected bottles from the large counter and head to the empty dining room. The guests that followed were delighted to find out that I could give them some useful information about each selection.

Overwhelmingly, the new world selections were the favorites with these particular party goers. At one point a friend commented that there must be something wrong with the red Bordeaux. I disagreed and pointed out that it displayed terroir (tare-wahr), the subtle component that is often absent in new world wines.

Terroir is the flavor of the land and environment. It is the slight flavor of rocks, chalk, autumn leaves, spring rain, dust, baked earth, ocean breeze or minerals. Terroir is destroyed by sulfites that are added when the grapes are first crushed. It is also diminished by the quick ripening that happens in hot growing regions. A whopping alcohol level is a sign that the delicate flavors of terroir are lost.

Aspect of the land is an old world occurrence. Although more new world producers try to preserve terroir in their wines, we are unfamiliar with it when we taste it in our glass.

Next time you have a glass of wine that doesn't scream of jam and vanilla, don't dismiss it as a loser. With a second sip you might discover 'la garrigue' (gar-reeg), the flavor of dried herbs and flowers and sun scorched earth. Terroir and elegance often walk hand in hand, with thought-provoking subtleties.

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