If a wine is made from grapes grown in lava soils on the slopes of Sicily’s towering Mount Etna volcano, can you taste Earth’s molten fire in the wine?
Well … maybe. But let’s be clear: terroir, the taste of the soil, is not the result of rocky particles somehow coming up from the soil into the grape. Sadly, that idea has been dismissed as a romantic myth.
After extensive studies, wine scientists in Bordeaux haven’t been able to find “any reliable link between the chemical composition of the soil and wine character or quality, and maintained that it was the drainage properties of the soil affecting the availability of water that mattered,” British wine writer and scientist Jamie Goode wrote in his 2016 Wine Anorak article, Mechanisms of terroir, which I commend to your attention.
But that doesn’t mean that vineyard soil is irrelevant to the taste of wines grown, respectively, in granite, basalt, red clay, chalk, or limestone. “The most convincing indications in the scientific literature are that the effect of soil type is through its physical properties, and more specifically, through the water supply to the grapevine,” Stellenbosch University Victoria Carey told Goode.
Based on all his interviews, Goode concluded, “The verdict was that it was the physical properties of the soils, regulating the water supply to the vine, that were all important in determining wine quality. The best terroirs were the ones where the soils are free draining, with the water tables high enough to ensure a regular supply of water to the vine roots.” …