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4 Soils Behind the Wines You Love

Terroir is an almost mystical French word. English has loose equivalents for it. Its most basic meaning is that wine is primarily the product of climate, soil and environment.

A great misconception about soil is that it is always a primary agent of a wine’s flavor, meaning that the complex of minerals in a soil deposit can be linked to a particular flavor in the finished bottle.

That said, soil remains a critical component of terroir.

Here are four distinct soil types behind some of the world’s greatest wines. Their influence on a wine’s flavor is more indirect, but nonetheless critical.

1) Alluvium

Napa Valley is home to several alluvial fans, which consist of layers of gravel, sand and silt that have descended from the western Mayacamas Mountains over millennia.

These soils are deep and well draining, which is a necessity if one’s goal is to produce intensely concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

Such soils are so granular that gravity pulls water away from the vines, forcing them to chase after it. The result is smaller berries with more intense flavor.

2) Kimmeridgean

These soils arguably contribute in a direct manner to a wine’s flavor. Found primarily in France’s Chablis and Champagne regions, these soils contain deposits of limestone and clay but are best known for the presence of fossilized oyster shells.

The latter component has been credited with giving the wines of Chablis in particular a mineral, flinty note.

The jury is still out on how exactly this unique flavor emerges in the final product, but all wine critics are united in the lauding the greatness of Chablis’ top wines.

3) Albariza

Sherry is one of Spain’s great wine gifts to the world, but its grandeur is too often lost behind the more international appeal of Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat.

Located in Spain’s southwest corner, the Sherry region is blessed to have the limestone-based Albariza soils, which have a water-holding capacity that allows the largely Palomino vines to withstand the often torrid summer heat.

While the Albariza soil does not contribute directly to the wine’s flavors, it permits viticulture to happen in the first place.

4) Slate

Whereas Spanish Sherry producers must often contend with intense summer heat, the winegrowers of Germany’s southwesterly Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region deal with the opposite extreme – not enough summer heat.

Were it not for its heat-absorbing slate soils, which consist of shale or clay that has been subjected to pressure deep within the earth, Mosel Riesling grapes would barely achieve ripeness levels necessary to make a palatable wine.

This article barely covers the most important soil types in the world of viticulture. Whether you are studying for the WSET or CSW exams, it is critical to know the role of soil in terroir.

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