The French Terroir Talk at VanWineFest 2020

Andrew Jefford (Image courtesy VanWineFest 2020)

Andrew Jefford (Image courtesy VanWineFest 2020)

Andrew Jefford is an English journalist, radio presenter, poet, magazine editor, a wine writer for Decanter magazine and much more. He lives near Montpellier in France. Why am I telling you this?  Andrew lead our French Terroir Talk during this seminar at the Vancouver International Wine Festival.  If there was anyone with the background knowledge of wine and experience of living in France that would be best suited to host this seminar it would be Andrew.  And he did not disappoint.  Along with Andrew, we had twelve French wine producers to talk about the “cru” wines we were tasting at this seminar.  The wines covered the regions of Alsace, Chablis, the Côte d’Or, Beaujolais, the Médoc, Saint-Émilion, Sancerre, Cairanne, Cornas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Our Panelists / Speakers were Mark Allen, Vanessa Aubert, Jean-Luc Colombo, Camille De Vere Green, Laurent Drouhin, Julien Dugas, Manon Flores, Michel Gassier, Jean Frederic Hugel, Adrien Laurent, Marion Lopez, and Olivier Rivain.

A few of our speakers starting from the top of our tasting list from left to right at the French Terroir Talk

A few of our speakers starting from the top of our tasting list from left to right at the French Terroir Talk

Our Featured wines

  • Joseph Mellot Sancerre 2016
  • Maison Joseph Drouhin Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2018
  • François Martenot Chartron et Trebuchet Montagny 1er Cru Les Bouchots 2017
  • Hugel & Fils Grossi Laue Riesling 2013
  • Maison Louis Latour Grand Cru Château Corton Grancey 2017
  • Les Vins Georges Duboeuf Julienas Cuvée Prestige 2015
  • Aubert Vignobles Château d’Anielle Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2015
  • Crus et Domaines de France Château de Lamarque 2015
  • Jean-Luc Colombo Terres Brulées Cornas 2016
  • Paul Jaboulet Aîné Cornas Domaine de Saint Pierre 2017
  • Domaine Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne AOC 2016
  • Les Halos de Jupiter Châteauneuf-du-Pape Adrastée 2016

Let’s Talk About Terroir

According to Andrew when we speak about terroir we are talking about quality of a wine and not quantity.  We are as well describing a uniqueness or difference in a wine based on a set of grape varieties growing at a site.  Terroir also requires human intervention, which initially sounds very controversial, but Andrew had discussed with us how technical innovation brought out the terroir for a region, such as in Bordeaux.  Before dams were built in Bordeaux, this was a marshy region which could not grow grapes.  Through human intervention we were able to dry out the soils in Bordeaux so that grapes could be grown and the terroir could be expressed.  Similarly in an area covered by trees or other scrub brush, it is through human intervention to clear the land and plant grape vines that we can experience the terroir of the region.

Grapes maturing in Burgundy

Grapes maturing in Burgundy

Andrew’s last point about terroir is that to experience the best terroir that can be expressed for a region takes time.  Not just one or two years.  It may take generations.  For example in Burgundy, it took the monks several hundreds of years to figure out which grapes grew best on particular soils at particular slopes facing particular directions.  There are over 400 different soil types in Burgundy which influenced the grapes and the quality of the grapes.  We now have 100 appellations in Burgundy and four quality categories.  In the past the wines the monks would have tasted and made would be much different from what we are now drinking.

Here in British Columbia with our modern winemaking history starting approximately in the 1970s, we are still trying to figure out the best grapes for different soil types and microclimates we have from the interior to the coast.  In theory we should be able to properly bring out terroir, through painstaking testing and tasting but it will take time.

That being said, Andrew did point out that we don’t need terroir to make good wine.  We can have a tasty sippable wine without wanting to be able to taste the rocks that make up the soil in a region or to know if the weather was slightly cooler or warmer in a particular growing season.  Terroir does not necessarily make a wine commercial and sell-able.

That being said, climate change will rewrite terroir.  We can see this with vineyard researchers experimenting with growing new grape varieties in regions known for certain grapes.  Take Napa Valley for example.  Most people would think of Cabernet Sauvignon for Napa Valley but the temperatures are getting too hot and there is less water available for this grape to express itself properly, so other varieties like Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, and Mourvedre are being planted and tested.  During the seminar, we were told that some clones of particular grapes could allow a particular grape variety to continue to be grown in it’s known/acknowledged region.  Some clones may be better suited to drought conditions but were not planted many years ago as the climate was not as hot so other clones were planted that may have been more flavourful, had a wider variety of aromas, etc.  Terroir is becoming a moving target in my opinion.

My Wine Tasting Notes

Joseph Mellot Sancerre 2018 – Sancerre and Pouilly Fume (made with Sauvignon Blanc) are known for their minerality and smokiness that comes from the flint and limestone in the soil. This wine is a bright lemon green colour.  It has a nice honey lemon aroma.  Fuller bodied, round and thick in the mouth.  Nice citrus, stonefruit and honey flavours.  The higher acidity in this wine brings some linearity to the wine.  I also picked up some salty minerality and pepperiness.  It has a lingering stonefruit finish. 4.5 out of 5 stars
Maison Joseph Drouhin Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2018 – the soil in Chablis is closer to that of Sancerre and further from Burgundian soil.  It is Kimmeridgian limestone soil that has lots of fossilized shells. This wine is Chardonnay made with 100% stainless steel fermentation.  This wine is bright lemon coloured.  It has a light intensity lemon, tropical and honey on the nose.  It is fuller-bodied and round with a thicker mouthfeel but still has medium-plus acidity.  Citrus, tropical fruit and honey. Although there is no oak ageing I can taste a vanilla flavour.  This wine is smooth with an acidic edge. 4.5 out of 5 stars
François Martenot Chartron et Trebuchet Montagny 1er Cru Les Bouchots 2017 – another Chardonnay for us to taste, this one comes from a vineyard south of Beaune in Burgundy; the Côte Chalonnaise. Clay, limestone and marl are mixed together in the soils in this area. Should oak be used to make the wine?  Will it hide terroir?  Oak provides micro-oxidization and makes the wine fatter while the stainless steel adds elegance, fruit and acidity. This wine is made with 50% stainless steel ferment and 50% in French oak. It has a lighter lemon with a green tint in colour.  It has a flinty, tropical fruit, vanilla and oak nose.  The wine is full-bodied, fat and round with medium acidity.  Lots of vanilla and tropical fruit flavours along with some toastiness.  It has a nice texture in the mouth.  Longer length.  4.5 out of 5 stars

Joseph Mellot Sancerre 2018, Maison Joseph Drouhin Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2018, and François Martenot Chartron et Trebuchet Montagny 1er Cru Les Bouchots 2017 at the French Terroir Talk

Joseph Mellot Sancerre 2018, Maison Joseph Drouhin Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2018, and François Martenot Chartron et Trebuchet Montagny 1er Cru Les Bouchots 2017 at the French Terroir Talk

Hugel & Fils Grossi Laue Riesling 2013 – Alsace is the driest region in France at this latitude and has the highest diurnal temperature differences that can affect the grapes, in a good way.  Grossi Laue represents a single vineyard (and a particular soil) and is Alsace’s equivalent to Grand Cru.  It is a rich golden colour.  It has a medium intensity nose showing deep ripe honeyed tropical fruits and petrol.  It has a medium-plus body and acidity, showing tropical fruit, marmalade, honey, floral, and petrol flavours.  A wonderful wine. 4.5 out of 5 stars5 out of 5 stars
Maison Louis Latour Grand Cru Château Corton Grancey 2017 – Corton is a famous hill in the Cote d’Or that has both white and red Grand Cru vineyards (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir).  The bottom of the hill is clay-based and as you go upslope you get limestone. Grancey is the name of a family that in the early 1800s blended the grapes from 5 or 6 different terroirs on the hill to produce their wine.  There are over 1247 different defined vineyards with their unique terroir in Burgundy and has been applied for as a UNESCO site in 2015. This wine is a medium translucent garnet colour from rim to the core.  It has a light lifted red fruit and red cherries aromas, and a touch of oak. The wine has a medium-plus body, is soft and round.  Raspberries and red fruit flavours, along with some sweet spices and pepperiness.  Medium-plus length. An elegant wine. 4.5 out of 5 stars5 out of 5 stars
Les Vins Georges Duboeuf Julienas Cuvée Prestige 2015 – The soils for the Julienas region where these grapes were harvested is a mix of volcanic rock and schist.  We told that the volcanic rock provides minerality to the wine, while the schist provides power.  This wine, from the Gamay grape, is only made in exceptional vintages and the best vineyards.  It is made with whole grape bunches, including the stems.  This wine is a deeper dull garnet colour.  It has a light intensity nose showing floral, red fruits and ripe plums. It is dry with a semi-round medium body.  It is very floral on the palate along with sweet plums and red fruits.  Firmer tannins. A tasty wine. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Hugel & Fils Grossi Laue Riesling 2013, Maison Louis Latour Grand Cru Château Corton Grancey 2017, and Les Vins Georges Duboeuf Julienas Cuvée Prestige 2015 wines at the French Terroir Talk

Hugel & Fils Grossi Laue Riesling 2013, Maison Louis Latour Grand Cru Château Corton Grancey 2017, and Les Vins Georges Duboeuf Julienas Cuvée Prestige 2015 wines at the French Terroir Talk

Aubert Vignobles Château d’Anielle Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2015 – This Bordeaux wine comes from the right bank, and is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.  It is a small family-owned winery (since 1750) that has had many generations.  The current owner and winemaker is Vanessa Aubert, who is indebted to her many grandparents of the past who spent the time to figure out which varieties of grapes would grow best in their vineyard.  This wine is a deep dull, approximately 80% opaque garnet in colour.  It has a gamy and dark fruit nose.  It is full-bodied, round and dry with firmer tannins and medium acidity. Ripe red and black mixed fruit and a touch of vanilla on the palate.  It finishes with drying tannins and puckering acidity. 4 out of 5 stars4.5 out of 5 stars
Crus et Domaines de France Château de Lamarque 2015 – This was our other Bordeaux wine for this seminar, but this one is from the Haut-Medoc, only 10km north of Margaux.  It is owned by 26 generations of one family; that works out to 1050 years.  The vineyards cover thirty-five hectares, across 3 parcels, planted on alluvial gravel with a subsoil of clay, sandstone, and red gravel. The vines consist of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, and the percentage that goes into their wines depends on the growing season for that year. I do not know the percentage of each grape variety that went into this blend.  This wine is almost opaque garnet to the rim.  It has a ripe black fruit nose, along with vanilla and cedar notes.  It has a medium-plus body, is soft, silky and fruity.  Ripe black fruit flavours along with light sweet spices.  The tannins start on the mid-palate and pick up to make a very dry finish. 4.5 out of 5 stars5 out of 5 stars
Jean-Luc Colombo Terres Brulées Cornas 2016 – this vineyard in the northern Rhone valley in Cornas was started only 40 years ago by Jean-Luc Columbo.  Cornas is a large hill with a steep slope that is made solely of decomposed granite that is very porous.  This wine is made from 100% Syrah grapes, where half of the vines are more than 50 years old (so planted before Jean-Luc acquired the property). Several parcels are combined together to make this wine.  This wine is an opaque ruby garnet mixed colour. It has a deep, ripe purple fruit nose plus some clove and nutmeg spice.  The wine is full-bodied with medium-plus acidity and fine tannins.  The acidity in the wine provides the wine’s backbone.  It has ripe raspberries and red cherry flavours, along with vanilla and pepperiness. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Aubert Vignobles Château d’Anielle Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2015, Crus et Domaines de France Château de Lamarque 2015, and Jean-Luc Colombo Terres Brulées Cornas 2016 wines at the French Terroir Talk

Aubert Vignobles Château d’Anielle Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2015, Crus et Domaines de France Château de Lamarque 2015, and Jean-Luc Colombo Terres Brulées Cornas 2016 wines at the French Terroir Talk

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Cornas Domaine de Saint Pierre 2017 – This is another Cornas wine to compare.  Are the wine aromas and flavours similar?  This wine comes from a single 4ha vineyard in a higher elevation in Cornas.  The wine is opaque ruby colour.  It has a ripe purple fruit and meaty nose.  It is fuller-bodied, dry and round but has a linear acidic profile.  Floral violets, raspberries, sweet spices and some smoky flavours.  Medium intensity fine-grained tannins.  Nice. 4.5 out of 5 stars5 out of 5 stars
Domaine Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne AOC 2016 – Now we are in the southern Rhone and a red blend made with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Carignan, coming from 3 soil types.  Grenache and Syrah + Mourvedre are grown on different soil types to best show their terroir.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel and aged for 2 years in barrel.  It is about 80% opaque garnet in colour.  I enjoyed the aromas from this wine showing red fruits and ripe raspberries.  The wine has a medium-plus body, is round with medium acidity and firmer tannins.   Ripe red fruits, sweet spices, vanilla and some pepperiness on the palate.  Drying tannins on the finish. 4.5 out of 5 stars
Les Halos de Jupiter Châteauneuf-du-Pape Adrastée 2016 – This Chateauneuf-du-Pape is made with 100% Grenache grapes from more than 100-year-old vines, which is surprising as most Ch-du-P wines are made from a Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend.  The winery owners view Grenache is being a King grape in the region, and they view Jupiter as the King planet in our solar system, so you get the wine label Les Halos de Jupiter. They want to show that Grenache can have a different character based on the different soils where it is planted. This wine is deep clear garnet in the glass.  It currently has a closed nose showing a touch of red fruits.  It is dry, soft and round with medium acidity.  You get flavours of violets and ripe red fruits, then add sweet spices on the mid-palate. The tannins for this wine build to the finish. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Cornas Domaine de Saint Pierre 2017, Domaine Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne AOC 2016, and Les Halos de Jupiter Châteauneuf-du-Pape Adrastée 2016 wines at the French Terroir Talk

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Cornas Domaine de Saint Pierre 2017, Domaine Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne AOC 2016, and Les Halos de Jupiter Châteauneuf-du-Pape Adrastée 2016 wines at the French Terroir Talk

Last Thoughts

Many of us enjoy wines that have a sense of terroir.  The vineyard managers need to grow the ideal variety of grapes on a particular type of soil, and then it is up to the winemaker to use minimal intervention to ferment and age the wine to bring out the wine’s aromas and flavours, and to bring out the “place” where the grapes were grown.  It is easy for a winemaker to wipe out the subtleties in a wine through things such as over oaking or over extracting a wine.

I enjoyed this seminar tremendously and the thoughts about what is terroir and how we as humans are related to terroir and wine.

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.

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