When it comes to mapping terroir nowadays, no area is too small. We are moving past sub-appellations and micro-climates to the new frontier of “parcel” or “block” wines, which narrow the source of the liquid down to one, small patch in a vineyard.
Some of what is driving this small vine fashion is the firm belief that soil profiles lead to considerably different flavour profiles, although this is controversial because some wine experts point to genetic mutations and/or sunlight as more likely causes for any discernible variations in flavor.
In Argentina, Dr. Laura Catena, a doctor and fourth-generation winemaker in Bodega Catena Zapata, has taken the thesis into the next-level by completely excavating nearly every inch of her Adrianna vineyard, a little, high-altitude area with markedly different soil composition from 1 parcel to another, the result of geological changes countless years back.
Wine lovers will recognize the fruits of Catena’s attempts as the White Stones and White Bones chardonnay bottlings from its Vino de Parcela line. Both are highly acclaimed — just one classic even minding a 99-point score from critic James Suckling. Same grape, same elevation, but different dirt as a result of the fact that a river ran through the Bones region, they know from the discovery of marine fossils. The result is two different wines: The White Stones, generated from 27 rows of vines in a single package, is more floral and aromatic. Other factors might be at play, of course, and in the name of thoroughness, Catena proceeds to employ the scientific method to research bacteria and genetic mutations in addition to the use of mineral deposits.
No matter the final verdict, expect to see more intensive mapping projects and parcel sparks, many of which are already on shelves from wineries such as Kelowna’s Cedar Creek and Niagara’s Tawse winery — the latter an early adopter of this doctrine with its block wine bottlings. Tawse was inspired by a desire to express the terroir as honestly as possible, in addition to give because of region it has considered a excellent model.
“Our original inspiration came in the wonderful wines of Burgundy where they have been dividing the vineyards by title for around a thousand years,” states Paul Pender, Tawse’s head winemaker. “And, through time, the winemakers there realized that there were distinct differences in the wine made from the same grapes, parcel to parcel.”
It might be old hat in Burgundy, but the reason it is spreading to the New World now has a lot to do with current preferences, particularly the general consumer trend away from towards and consistency variety. “When you’ve got a huge plot of chardonnay that is all mixed together, it becomes slightly homogenous, which means you are likely to have a trusted product that’s comparable to other chardonnays from other big plots,” says Chris Lafleur, a sommelier in Toronto’s Eleven. “I think we are going to see more of it, because wine geeks like to say, ‘Oh, this is from the smallest plot of land,’ or ‘It is the most concentrated flavour from this terroir.'”
With somms and oenophiles embracing it, you can bet we will see smaller and smaller blocks and parcels in the long run. The wine world is a little one, after all.
Christine Sismondo went to Argentina as a guest of Bodega Catena Zapata and Noble Estates. The firms didn’t review or approve this article before publication.
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Courtesy: The Globe And Mail