Wednesday, January 17, 2007

'terroir' versus 'signature'


The days are still short, the tooth situation is still grim and we are sitting by the fire, evening after evening, watching the full ten hour version of Mondovino. At all times, naturally, we have a glass in our hand with red stuff in it. We start with a treat for poor Julian who has just had a traumatic visit to the dentist (apparently certain delicacies caught in his cavity have caused a new infection to flare). The wine is a Macchiole we picked up in Tuscany. We compliment our drink with a diet portion of slippery pasta with a dot of truffle oil on it and turn on the screen.

The debate we enjoy the most in this superb documentary concerns the question of ‘signature’ versus ‘terroir’.

The Oxford English dictionary defines the word ‘terroir’ thus:

‘The complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography and climate; the characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a wine by this environment.’

Even in the OAD the word gives off waves of sun-baked family bliss to be had living a life in tune with nature (and possibly in a chateau). Only in the small print scored in the wine growers faces do we find anything about drought, heat-waves or early frost and how they might affect the crop. Once mentioned now, ‘terroir’ will bring in the bucks just as the word ‘home’ in ‘Martha’s Home Baked Cookie Company’ will until we get wind of it being a global chain. You can now find Terroir Coffee. (Why not?)

The ‘signature’ is, of course, what man does with his ‘natural environment’, and above all with his grapes. It is science, technique. It is also ego. It is often brilliant and it can produce high quality and supermarket-worthy reliability.

I guess it’s always the same question: Are we – painters, musicians, writers, wine and coffee makers - at any given moment, authors or narrators?

Our Macchiole is very fine. We follow it with a Cairanne (Domaine de Rabasse Charavin) which the Tuscan wine seller would have poo-pooed, it being a mere Côtes du Rhone. Perhaps it is not as good, but it tastes, I think, of home, and that – just like the ad men know - is excellent.



Anonymous elaine k bond said...


1:09 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

thanks elaine. for some reason i thought it was spelt funny in french but it's not!

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:28 PM  
Anonymous Karen Doherty said...

Ruth, one of my favorite lines in Mondovino...when they refer to Parker and Rolland as "Terrior-ists...these guys are the Ayatollah of terrior"!
Is there really a ten hour version???

8:43 PM  

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