Terroir | Wine buzzwords

Charley May
By Charley May
about 2 years ago
3 min read

Have you ever tried to catch a bus overseas or order dinner in a non-English speaking country? I have, and invariably I ended up lost and very hungry because I lacked the language to interact successfully. Similar frustrations are common in wine because its lexicon is also hard to fathom, and this leaves many people stranded on an island called ‘confused’. Well mofo, we’re about to embark on a mission to make sense of the all the lingo that makes you scratch your head. We’ll be giving you a dictionary of the wine world’s most popular terms and taking you on a lyrical journey to a destination called good wine.

Welcome aboard the first leg of our adventure, you’re about to dive into a sea of clarity.

Terroir (n)

Pronunciation: ter-waahr.

While it sounds similar, it’s not the name of a small yappy dog but rather a French term to describe the factors behind the distinctive characters found in wines from different places. But before we dig deeper, let’s learn how to say it. Repeat after me, ‘ter-waahr’. And again, but in a thick French accent. Now you’ve got it. 

Terroir is arguably the industry’s all time favourite buzzword but dropping it into every sentence leaves a lot of folks puzzled. So let’s break it down ‘cause there’s gold in them thar hills.

The term itself comes from the latin word for land (terra), and it describes four factors - soil, climate, terrain and culture - that shape the character of wine to give rise to a unique flavour that reflects its origins. And because vines and grapes are extremely responsive to their environment, even small variations across any of the four factors can have a dramatic impact on how they taste. 

This is the reason why riesling from Australia and Germany taste so different, and even within Australia, why rizza from the Clare tastes so different to those made in Great Southern. And it’s this sense of place that vineyard managers nurture, and the best winemakers capture, in wines that let you travel to faraway places through taste. 

To terroir or not to terroir:

Take care of how you wield this word because it’s got a high wine w**ker score.

Wine geeks would smile and nod if you casually dropped it in a sentence at a formal tasting. For example, “Alsace’s distinctive terroir really shines through in this riesling” #nailedit.

But say something similar at Friday nights drinks, and you run the risk of awkward silences and side glances as everyone sizes you up as a bit of a know it all #epicfail.


That’s all for today mofos, you’ve done a stellar job digesting all of that waffle. Now pour yourself a big glass and join us for more language lessons soon. Sign up here for the next instalment!