Wine Knowledge – Where to Draw the Line

I 've been reading, with some trepidation, about the latest emerging trend in understanding wines – an appreciation of soil. Earlier this month, Bloomberg posted an article about precisely this topic, and even included some recommended wines for the reader to try, depending on our preferred soil.

Now, of course, I appreciate the importance of soil in producing a quality wine – it absolutely mustn’t be underestimated as a key constituent of a well-crafted and balanced wine. The notion of ‘terroir’ is an important one for winemakers, particularly in the northern hemisphere. Certain grapes like certain soils and climates. A great wine is the product of soil, climate and all the other environmental factors working together… I get it.

But I just wonder whether knowing about soil is a step too far for the average wine enthusiast?

To have a deep understanding of one’s taste in wine, it’s useful to know about two things – the country of origin, and the grape variety/blend of varieties. You might find that you develop a taste for a particular grape variety or a style of wine, and then you might want to find out more. Why does Chardonnay from Australia taste so different from Chardonnay made in Burgundy? It’s a lot to take in. And then you might want to find out more, and start learning about the wine making process, and the climate, and, yes, even the soil.

For some, it is a pleasing journey. It’s sort of interesting to know about the mineral-rich soils of Burgundy, and the alluvial soils of the Napa Valley – learning about wine is a labour of love, after all, and any wine-based learning is inevitably accompanied by a delightful glass of something tasty.

But reading about the US restaurant where the wine list is organised by soil type, I found my inner wine geek was swiftly silenced:


“Under limestone, you’ll see a white from Portugal; under granite you’ll find two Beaujolais reds from Fleurie.”

In an industry that often pretends to shrug off, but often seems to inadvertently embrace, the ‘snobbery’ label, this is a step too far for me. I don’t want my wines organised by soil type. I’m not sure anyone does. It’s a level of smugness I just can’t digest, I’m afraid. What this says to me is “So you’ve gone to great lengths to learn about grapes and wine producing regions? Well, it’s not enough!”

However, if you are yearning to become proficient in soil so that you can navigate the smuggest of wine lists, you can start here, with the Bloomberg article.