In wine, like real estate, it very often comes down to location, location, location. Or, maybe we should say terroir, terroir, terroir. Terroir, the French word for “soil,” is a wine-world term used to describe a vineyard’s soil, topography and microclimate. In other words, everything that can affect a wine’s flavors and aromas before the grapes are even picked.

Without the effect of terroir, all Chardonnay, for example, would taste close to the same, which is not the case. Chardonnay produced in France has minerally qualities that are in sharp contrast to the fruit-rich and ripe flavors of California Chardonnay.

Even when grown within a close geographical proximity wine grapes can take on markedly different qualities. Often you’ll see a winery offering a “California” Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a “Napa” Cabernet Sauvignon. The difference between these two is the California wine is made from grapes grown anywhere in California; the Napa wine is made exclusively from grapes grown in the Napa Valley. “Single Vineyard” wines are made from 100% grapes grown in one vineyard (while most wines are made from grapes bought from several vineyards). Wines made from grapes grown in a very limited area like this are considered more special because they are true representations of terroir.

As wine-drinkers become more comfortable in their knowledge of the basics, many are seeking to delve a little deeper into the difference between varietals and wines made in different regions of the world. At the Detroit Wine Organization’s last Wine Down Wednesday we tasted Italian Super Tuscans alongside Tuscan-style wines from California. Most of the wines were made from a similar blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot grapes, but the flavors and aromas were very different. The producer’s winemaking style plays into this, of course, but the Californians were consistently fruitier and lighter than those from Italy. Terroir is the reason.

Try this experiment at home: buy a few bottles of the same varietal from different places (different countries, different regions within a country or single vineyards in the same region). Taste them side by side to get a sense of the impact of terroir. Or, for the cost of a couple decent bottles of wine, you can embark on a more comprehensive exploration of terroir at the DWO’s March 30 Wine Down Wednesday at Vinotecca in Royal Oak. We’ve only got 10 tickets left, so don’t delay. .

« Return to course list