Last week we took a look at what terroir is, how it affects the taste of wine and the different types. In this week’s blog, we will discuss some of the differences in terroir between my three favorite wine regions: Napa Valley, California, and Burgundy and Bordeaux, France.
Napa Valley Terroir
Napa Valley is only about 30 miles long and 10 to 15 miles wide. Within this valley area there are 46 different soil types, this is more soil types than there is in all of France. The valley also has an excellent Mediterranean climate which has a very positive effect on the valley grapes. It has moderate warm, dry and sunny days, and cool evenings during the summer months.
This weather pattern allows the grapes to grow and mature over a longer growing season, allowing the grapes to retain their acids, which doesn’t happen in hotter climates.
The soils in Napa Valley are less fertile and better drained than farther inland toward the east. These wonderful conditions provide smaller grapes with more intense flavors. Crop yields in the valley generally range from 2.5 to 5 tons per acre.
Burgundy France Terroir
The wine region of Burgundy is very unique. In fact, wine classifications there are based on the quality of the terroir. The French classification system studies the terroir and makes the determination on its quality. As an example, Grand Cru wines are some of the greatest wines produced because they are grown on the best spot possible. Premier Cru wines are produced in the second-best terroir area in Burgundy…and so on.
Burgundy is fortunate to have a lot of variation within its soil and subsoils, making its wines taste different from region to region and sometimes from vineyard to vineyard. The soils contain clay and limestone. Burgundy sits on a bed of Kimmeridgian soil, which is limestone formed from fossilized oyster shells from billions of years ago. This soil is what gives Burgundy wines that special something which makes them so outstanding.
Burgundy is in eastern France. Burgundy wines come from an estimated 74,000 acres of vineyards and produce some of the most exclusive wines in the world. Here are two examples:
- Domaine de la Romanée – Conti Romanée – Conti Grand Cru, Côte de Nuits, France, Pinot Noir. 10th most popular French wine with a wine score of 97/100 points. Cost $19,598 retail.
- Domaine de la Romanée – Conti La Tâche Grand Cru Monopole, Côte de Nuits, France – Pinot Noir. 14th most popular French wine with a wine score of 96/100 points. Cost $4,739 per bottle.
I have enjoyed a 2006 La Tâche and it was absolutely wonderful (see my notes here).
There are four top regions in Burgundy. All of which are located in the center of Burgundy in a strip 75 miles long running from the towns of Dijon and Macon. The distinct sub-regions in this are Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais.
The terroir in Bordeaux offers some of the best grape growing climate and terroir in the world. The type of soil and terroir is the most important factor that will determine the quality of wine.
Bordeaux wine is a unique blend of at least two or three grape varieties that are commonly grown in the regions of Bordeaux.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Merlot (the most common grape)
- Cabernet Franc
Bordeaux wines are known to be well-rounded wines due to being full-bodied with medium-to-full acidity and they offer scents of black current, plums, gravel and lead.
Winemaking in Bordeaux goes back to the ancient Romans. In the 1600s, specific regions and sub-regions began developing certain brands. What’s known as the 1855 Bordeaux Classification of Medoc declared this winemaking region the most important in the world.
Thus, the title of “First Growth” came about during this time and is still awarded today as the best: “first” means best in class. Some Bordeaux wines are of extraordinary quality.
Bordeaux is divided by the rivers Dordogne and the Garonne into the main areas. The two rivers meet up and form the Gironde River. This division creates regions called the Left Bank and the Right Bank. This division affects the wine produced in each.
- Is located south of Garonne and Gironde rivers
- The Left Bank is known for wines made primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Right Bank region is located north of the Dordogne and Gironde rivers
- The Right Bank is known for wines made primarily with Merlot grapes
There is a difference between the Left and Right Bank wines.
Left Bank Wines Are:
- Higher in alcohol content
- More powerful
- Likely to age exceptionally well
- Higher in tannins
Right Bank Wines Are:
- Lower in alcohol content
- Necessary to be consumed quicker than Left Bank wines
- Usually are less expensive
The climate in Bordeaux is a temperate Mediterranean maritime climate. Bordeaux is located at the 45th parallel which places it in the middle of the equator and the North Pole. Bordeaux enjoys an exceptional climate advantage that other top wine growing regions do not have.
The average temperature throughout the year is 55 degrees. The summer months average around 68 degrees.
During the peak summer months of the growing season temperatures can spike upward of 95 to 105 degrees during the day. Temperatures can cool down at night and during early morning hours to a temperature of around 48 degrees. This cooler air gives the grapes more acidity which in turn means a fresher quality and wonderful textures. The maritime climate is ideal for Bordeaux Wines.
The soil in Bordeaux is unusual in that below the top soil exists layers of organic material and other types of minerals and nutrition for the vines. Cabernet Sauvignon grows best in gravel soils while Merlot grows better in clay.
As far as terroir is concerned there is great diversity in the Right Bank and Left Bank regions of Bordeaux. There is limestone towards the Dordogne River, there are clay-rich areas in the Left Bank and there are gravel-rich areas in both Banks.
Regardless of where the wines were produced, be it Bordeaux, Burgundy or Napa Valley, each terroir produces some world-famous wines, at a range of price levels. Educate your palate by trying wines from all three areas.
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Look Forward To These Happy Things:
Upcoming LEX 530 Events!
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Wednesday, August 26, 2020 – Partnering with Artisian at LEX 530
Oktoberfest Dinner – Tuesday, September 22, 2020 – with Elkhart’s Iechyd Da Brewing Company
Artisian Wine Dinner in Partnership with LEX 530 – Wednesday, October 7, 2020 – held at Artisan
Special Guest Winemaker Wine Dinner – Friday, October 23, 2020
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Friday, November 20, 2020
Important Wine Holidays
August 18 – International Pinot Noir Day
September 3 – International Cabernet Day
September 18 – International Grenache Day
November 7 – International Merlot Day
November 12 – International Tempranillo Day
November 18 – International Zinfandel Day
December 4 – Cabernet Franc Day
December 20 – National Sangria Day
December 31 – National Champagne Day