Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

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Marcu$ Stanley
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Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#1 Post by Marcu$ Stanley » June 9th, 2020, 7:01 am

Neal Martin is one of the best wine writers going, and his writeup of the 2015 Burgfest blind tasting is typically witty and observant. But thought people would be particularly interested in his observation on terroir vs the influence of winemaking. The Burgfest tasting offers a particularly good opportunity to do that since it is organized as a bunch of horizontals of wines from the same vineyard, same vintage.
This tasting provides so much information, so many talking points, that I could go on ad nauseum examining the performance of each and every grower. Allow me to begin by stating something perhaps controversial but irrefutable. On paper, Burgfest is an examination of terroir, since flights are organized by vineyard. The mantra is that great wine is made in the vineyard, a priori, vineyard site is the determining factor. If only that romantic idea were true. If Burgfest proves one thing, year after year, it is that winemakers’ decisions throughout the entire process, from bud-break to bottling, tend to override the sway of terroir. How you prune, whether you de-leaf, whether you farm biodynamically or with chemicals, when you decide to pick, how much you sort the fruit, add stems or de-stem, chaptalize or acidify, how much new oak you elect to use. Sorry to bust the myth, but these multiple decisions shape the wine to a greater degree than whether this vineyard has a bit more limestone than that one. The juxtaposition of these wines at Burgfest reveals so much about decisions made by the winemaker because Burgundies are more sensitive than Bordeaux. Sometimes varicolored flights suggested the wines came from different countries, let alone exactly the same vineyard. See the evidence below. These are the five Clos Saint-Jacques, same walled vineyard and same vintage, all adjacent to each other.

Check out the article if you want to see the photo of some very different colored CSJs along with with a good writeup of 2015.

https://vinous.com/articles/blind-visio ... e-nov-2018

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#2 Post by Anton D » June 9th, 2020, 7:11 am

With all that variety, could he still tell they were all Clos Saint-Jacques?
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#3 Post by Marcu$ Stanley » June 9th, 2020, 7:19 am

Apparently the Burgfest flights are not blinded as to vineyard so he would have been told they were all CSJ. But I think reading between the lines of what he wrote he is saying that it is extremely unlikely you could have told they were all CSJ if you didn't already know.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#4 Post by John Oglesby » June 9th, 2020, 7:55 am

I want to hug that guy.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#5 Post by Cris Whetstone » June 9th, 2020, 8:05 am

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#6 Post by Scott McDonald » June 9th, 2020, 8:15 am

"On paper, Burgfest is an examination of terroir, since flights are organized by vineyard."

I disagree with Neal's premise here. In fact, it would seem the way the Burgfest tasting is set up is designed to largely ELIMINATE terroir as a variable, so that you can isolate and compare winemaker/viticulture influence. If you wanted to examine terroir, you'd organize the tasting by producer, comparing a single producer's Mazis-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, and Chambertin-Clos de Beze to each other.

It would seem the Burgfest tasting is designed to highlight precisely the winemaker influences he's complaining it's being overwhelmed by. Although I might agree with his conclusion that winemaking signatures overwhelm terroir signatures, I think he misunderstands the purpose of the format of the tasting.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#7 Post by JasperMorris » June 9th, 2020, 8:29 am

Exactly right, Scott

and it is me who organises the event... (which originated as an extension of Clive Coates' Bordeaux blind tasting sessions)

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#8 Post by Tomás Costa » June 9th, 2020, 9:01 am

Aha. Here is the elephant in the room I had always wanted to address, yet was in fear of doing so out of my presumable ignorance or inexperience. And here is my question: are the famous Côte d'Or climats worth the premium you pay on them?

I am thinking of two tastings I've done over the past year. Both were of wines I enjoyed: a horizontal by a small Lisbon based producer, and a comparative tasting of different Dão producers' top wines. After the former tasting a member of the audience asked the producer about prices. They were astronomical - some might say Burgundian, I suppose. But as in Burgundy, he was operating with small plots of land and production numbers, with a quality based approach.

In the Dão tasting, I singled out two wines for opposing reasons. One was fresh, quirky, provocative. The other, though balanced and competently made, was boring for my taste - too consensual. It wasn't until the magazine came out that I realized the wine I had prefered was half the price of the other one.

Am I really better off buying whites from Puligny-Chassagne-Meursault rather than the Mâconnais, Chablis or Côte Chalonnaise? And particularly when it's the same producer working in all those places at very different price ranges? Is it such a bad deal to buy reds from Volnay and Pommard rather than the more prestigious climats of the Côte de Nuits? Is the difference I'm paying ever a terroir based quality differentiator, or rather the result of high demand VS. low supply, which is itself fueled by the weight of tradition and by premium pricing? Does the Emperor have any clothes?

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#9 Post by c fu » June 9th, 2020, 9:23 am

Don’t we always say the three most important things in burgundy are producer producer producer?
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#10 Post by Mel Knox » June 9th, 2020, 9:48 am

This reminds me of an event organized by the IPNC people back in the late 80s/early 90s.
Three groups of three winemakers got grapes from the same vineyard--more or less-- and we all tasted the results.

The 'it's the winemaker' crowd pointed to the differences and the terroiristes pointed to the similarities.
My conclusion: this argument will go on forever.

As C Fu points out, when it comes to buying decisions people go for the producer. Rousseau, Roumier, Coche....
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#11 Post by Sean S y d n e y » June 9th, 2020, 9:53 am

Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:01 am
Aha. Here is the elephant in the room I had always wanted to address, yet was in fear of doing so out of my presumable ignorance or inexperience. And here is my question: are the famous Côte d'Or climats worth the premium you pay on them?

I am thinking of two tastings I've done over the past year. Both were of wines I enjoyed: a horizontal by a small Lisbon based producer, and a comparative tasting of different Dão producers' top wines. After the former tasting a member of the audience asked the producer about prices. They were astronomical - some might say Burgundian, I suppose. But as in Burgundy, he was operating with small plots of land and production numbers, with a quality based approach.

In the Dão tasting, I singled out two wines for opposing reasons. One was fresh, quirky, provocative. The other, though balanced and competently made, was boring for my taste - too consensual. It wasn't until the magazine came out that I realized the wine I had prefered was half the price of the other one.

Am I really better off buying whites from Puligny-Chassagne-Meursault rather than the Mâconnais, Chablis or Côte Chalonnaise? And particularly when it's the same producer working in all those places at very different price ranges? Is it such a bad deal to buy reds from Volnay and Pommard rather than the more prestigious climats of the Côte de Nuits? Is the difference I'm paying ever a terroir based quality differentiator, or rather the result of high demand VS. low supply, which is itself fueled by the weight of tradition and by premium pricing? Does the Emperor have any clothes?
I'm "young" and relatively inexperienced by the standards of this board, too. Even as someone who's pretty Burgundy-obsessed, I can count the number of top-flight 1er and Grand Cru Burgundies I have had from great producers on one hand.

I will tell you that the 2002 Jadot Clos St. Jacques I had last year was definitely one of the top 3 wines I have had in my life. I also had the opportunity to drink a bottle of 1983 Leroy Gevrey lieux-dit thanks to the outrageous generosity of an old coworker; it holds one of the other top 3 spots.

I buy a lot of stuff from the non-CdN places you mentioned, but like a lot of people here have said: I would rather buy a great producer working in the Côte de Beaune - or even the Chalonnaise/Macon - than pay a premium for a mediocre producer in the Côte de Nuits.

Whether it's worth it is entirely up to you. You can probably get most of the pleasure without having to pay for the absolute pinnacle. But that extra 10-20% that makes a wine totally sublime will be tough to replicate outside of the best producers in the most exalted climats, and it will also have the added deleterious effect of making you more willing to spend money to chase the dragon. The best winemakers make good wine everywhere, and they also make the best wine from the best places.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#12 Post by A1ex H » June 9th, 2020, 10:01 am

I really enjoy that Neal is taking a stand on this even if I don't entirely agree as Jasper and Scott point out. Yes, there are clearly producer signatures that distort terroir. However, when you look at the list of Neal's tasting notes, the top end is dominated by grand crus and highly rated premier crus. That stood out to me more than a few producers dominating his rankings. I am also not sure that the balance between producer vs. terroir influence is fixed - it changes and I would suggest that it swings towards terroir over time as things like oak integrate into the wine.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#13 Post by Marcu$ Stanley » June 9th, 2020, 10:07 am

Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:01 am
Aha. Here is the elephant in the room I had always wanted to address, yet was in fear of doing so out of my presumable ignorance or inexperience. And here is my question: are the famous Côte d'Or climats worth the premium you pay on them?

I am thinking of two tastings I've done over the past year. Both were of wines I enjoyed: a horizontal by a small Lisbon based producer, and a comparative tasting of different Dão producers' top wines. After the former tasting a member of the audience asked the producer about prices. They were astronomical - some might say Burgundian, I suppose. But as in Burgundy, he was operating with small plots of land and production numbers, with a quality based approach.

In the Dão tasting, I singled out two wines for opposing reasons. One was fresh, quirky, provocative. The other, though balanced and competently made, was boring for my taste - too consensual. It wasn't until the magazine came out that I realized the wine I had prefered was half the price of the other one.

Am I really better off buying whites from Puligny-Chassagne-Meursault rather than the Mâconnais, Chablis or Côte Chalonnaise? And particularly when it's the same producer working in all those places at very different price ranges? Is it such a bad deal to buy reds from Volnay and Pommard rather than the more prestigious climats of the Côte de Nuits? Is the difference I'm paying ever a terroir based quality differentiator, or rather the result of high demand VS. low supply, which is itself fueled by the weight of tradition and by premium pricing? Does the Emperor have any clothes?
VERY GOOD QUESTION! The thing that makes me wonder about this though is the failure of other geographic regions to produce Burgundy-quality wines. The best Chardonnay from the entire nation of New Zealand (assuming that is Kumeu River) costs like 50-60% of what a generic village Meursalt or Chassagne-Montrachet does from a good Burgundy producer. Respected Burgundy producers growing in Oregon cannot get Burgundy pricing. Is this all just label mania, or are there that many price insensitive consumers? Speaking from my own limited experience, I have really never had a non-Burgundy pinot that replicates what you get from Burgundy, even though there are obviously cases where they are a better value in a different style. I can really see the argument that the "emperor has no clothes" when it comes to differences between nearby areas in Burgundy that are a couple of miles apart. But it is much harder to sustain when you compare entirely different winegrowing regions.

One thing I suspect is that people underrate weather and climate in "terroir" as compared to soil types. Weather goes way beyond temperatures obviously, it's humidity, the type of sun exposure, variation in temperatures over days and weeks and months, etc. Differences in wine styles across big geographic areas seem to point to weather as a major factor. Of course, in the era of climate change weather is not a constant...

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#14 Post by Marcu$ Stanley » June 9th, 2020, 10:13 am

A1ex H wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 10:01 am
I really enjoy that Neal is taking a stand on this even if I don't entirely agree as Jasper and Scott point out. Yes, there are clearly producer signatures that distort terroir. However, when you look at the list of Neal's tasting notes, the top end is dominated by grand crus and highly rated premier crus. That stood out to me more than a few producers dominating his rankings. I am also not sure that the balance between producer vs. terroir influence is fixed - it changes and I would suggest that it swings towards terroir over time as things like oak integrate into the wine.
Re the bolded observation, I wonder if it could be different for any commercial critic. The entire economics of wine is centered on branding and in Burgundy the grand cru and top premier crus are a huge part of that. Everyone in the sales and value chain has to support the branding and paid critics are part of the sales and value chain. Could a critic expect to hold a job if he or she went around writing reviews that consistently implied "this vineyard designation that drives like 50% of your pricing is meaningless"?

Of course the same economics work on the producers who have every incentive to make the wines from their more highly designated areas "better", however that works out stylistically given that current Burgundy prices and resources would absolutely make it possible to do peak-level winemaking from every single designated vineyard down to the village level.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#15 Post by Nick Christie » June 9th, 2020, 10:30 am

Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:01 am
Am I really better off buying whites from Puligny-Chassagne-Meursault rather than the Mâconnais, Chablis or Côte Chalonnaise? And particularly when it's the same producer working in all those places at very different price ranges? Is it such a bad deal to buy reds from Volnay and Pommard rather than the more prestigious climats of the Côte de Nuits? Is the difference I'm paying ever a terroir based quality differentiator, or rather the result of high demand VS. low supply, which is itself fueled by the weight of tradition and by premium pricing? Does the Emperor have any clothes?
The clothes are our own :)

One of my favorite dialogues on this came from the Chocolate World, and the Mast Brothers. As their chocolate reputation grew, their 'brand' of terroir and specificity and uniqueness was exposed for being, shall we say, much less unique than they claimed (possibly mostly invented, at least at first).

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/21/nyre ... ythos.html

And yet their chocolate had dedicated fans, and to this day has many dedicated fans as they continue success. If you loved their chocolate, that should be just cool on its own, right? But what if someone reveals to you that what you love isn't due to a 'unique, totally original' engineering process, but rather a blend of the same tricks/processes everyone already uses?

Developing an authentic palate with 'consistency' is a part of the human endeavor. Personally, some of my favorite stories to tell regarding my own wine palate/experience/knowledge are when I was genuinely surprised by a wine, positively or negatively, i.e. a wine which doesn't normally tick my boxes of preference really spoke to me (or I appreciated its differences in a powerful manner) or a wine which was 'supposed' to tick my boxes of preferences was entirely underwhelming (and, in theory, not because of bottle flaws).

These dialogues can start open-ended and full of discovery and then evolve into more as we become sensitive, ashamed, or worried about being 'exposed'...

My own conclusion (shared by many, I am sure) is simply always, always push to better understand one's own palate. In art, music, food, wine, whatever.

In the Art World (where I have much less training, and much less 'special knowledge/experience') one of my favorite things to do is really sit, in person, with an acclaimed great work of art or collection of art from an acclaimed Master and see what happens in my own mind, i.e. sans pressure.

Ideally, we should be so fortunate with our wines.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#16 Post by John Morris » June 9th, 2020, 10:39 am

c fu wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:23 am
Don’t we always say the three most important things in burgundy are producer producer producer?
I think that refers mainly to overall quality, particularly in lesser vintages. I don’t think that was meant to deny the role of terroir/site.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#17 Post by c fu » June 9th, 2020, 10:55 am

John Morris wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 10:39 am
c fu wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:23 am
Don’t we always say the three most important things in burgundy are producer producer producer?
I think that refers mainly to overall quality, particularly in lesser vintages. I don’t think that was meant to deny the role of terroir/site.
it's also to note to pick producer over the vineyard. Cause that's one of the first mistakes new burgundy purchasers have. "But i bought these grand cru!? shouldn't they be awesome!?"

i.e. "Should I buy this village gevrey Rousseau? or negotiant 1er Gevrey?"
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#18 Post by John Morris » June 9th, 2020, 10:59 am

Exactly, producer over vineyard or vintage if you simply want the best guide to a good wine.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#19 Post by Tomás Costa » June 9th, 2020, 11:03 am

Nick Christie wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 10:30 am
Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:01 am
Am I really better off buying whites from Puligny-Chassagne-Meursault rather than the Mâconnais, Chablis or Côte Chalonnaise? And particularly when it's the same producer working in all those places at very different price ranges? Is it such a bad deal to buy reds from Volnay and Pommard rather than the more prestigious climats of the Côte de Nuits? Is the difference I'm paying ever a terroir based quality differentiator, or rather the result of high demand VS. low supply, which is itself fueled by the weight of tradition and by premium pricing? Does the Emperor have any clothes?
The clothes are our own :)

One of my favorite dialogues on this came from the Chocolate World, and the Mast Brothers. As their chocolate reputation grew, their 'brand' of terroir and specificity and uniqueness was exposed for being, shall we say, much less unique than they claimed (possibly mostly invented, at least at first).

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/21/nyre ... ythos.html

And yet their chocolate had dedicated fans, and to this day has many dedicated fans as they continue success. If you loved their chocolate, that should be just cool on its own, right? But what if someone reveals to you that what you love isn't due to a 'unique, totally original' engineering process, but rather a blend of the same tricks/processes everyone already uses?

Developing an authentic palate with 'consistency' is a part of the human endeavor. Personally, some of my favorite stories to tell regarding my own wine palate/experience/knowledge are when I was genuinely surprised by a wine, positively or negatively, i.e. a wine which doesn't normally tick my boxes of preference really spoke to me (or I appreciated its differences in a powerful manner) or a wine which was 'supposed' to tick my boxes of preferences was entirely underwhelming (and, in theory, not because of bottle flaws).

These dialogues can start open-ended and full of discovery and then evolve into more as we become sensitive, ashamed, or worried about being 'exposed'...

My own conclusion (shared by many, I am sure) is simply always, always push to better understand one's own palate. In art, music, food, wine, whatever.

In the Art World (where I have much less training, and much less 'special knowledge/experience') one of my favorite things to do is really sit, in person, with an acclaimed great work of art or collection of art from an acclaimed Master and see what happens in my own mind, i.e. sans pressure.

Ideally, we should be so fortunate with our wines.
Speaking as a musician, I have previously made the parallel with antique violins (on the Rudy Kurniawan thread) and how well or not so well they did in blind hearings compared to modern instruments. The most extraordinary instruments I've heard were those great antiques, but I fully believe Christian Tetzlaff when he claims his modern violin by Peter Greiner is just as good. Ning Feng's Greiner was mistaken for a Stradivarius when some of my colleagues heard him perform in Lisbon.

Speaking as a wine lover, and not a very worldly one, I had an experience where I doubted my palate. It was on New Year's, and the restaurant's sommelier brought out a bottle which, so far, I have to consider one of the wines of my life (I'll give the stereotypical hipster statement - you've probably never heard of it). My first impression was of being overwhelmed, as if I had reached Nirvana. On the second glass I made an effort to be more analytical, yet the only conclusion I could reach was that the wine was perfect: delicious, complex, with no rough edges or shortcomings. It wasn't just the festive spirit animating my senses.

I doubted my own judgment afterwards. Not because my enjoyment wasn't valid, but because I'm not experienced enough to have tasted any of the wines that truly warrant a legendary status around the world, and so my standards must have been born out of inexperience. This made me think of all the terrific stuff which I'm missing and will likely never taste. Just like that, a positive experience gained a negative undertone.

Finally, some weeks later I started following an Instagram page of a Brazilian Berserker style wine lover who only reviews old (over 15 years old) wines. I don't know the guy's palate, but there, in the middle of great old champagne, Bordeaux and super toscans, was the wine I had had that New Year's Eve - and judging by his TN, he was just as overwhelmed by it as I was. I grinned!

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#20 Post by John Morris » June 9th, 2020, 11:09 am

Marcu$ Stanley wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 7:01 am
Neal Martin is one of the best wine writers going, and his writeup of the 2015 Burgfest blind tasting is typically witty and observant. But thought people would be particularly interested in his observation on terroir vs the influence of winemaking. The Burgfest tasting offers a particularly good opportunity to do that since it is organized as a bunch of horizontals of wines from the same vineyard, same vintage.
This tasting provides so much information, so many talking points, that I could go on ad nauseum examining the performance of each and every grower. Allow me to begin by stating something perhaps controversial but irrefutable. On paper, Burgfest is an examination of terroir, since flights are organized by vineyard. The mantra is that great wine is made in the vineyard, a priori, vineyard site is the determining factor. If only that romantic idea were true. If Burgfest proves one thing, year after year, it is that winemakers’ decisions throughout the entire process, from bud-break to bottling, tend to override the sway of terroir. How you prune, whether you de-leaf, whether you farm biodynamically or with chemicals, when you decide to pick, how much you sort the fruit, add stems or de-stem, chaptalize or acidify, how much new oak you elect to use. Sorry to bust the myth, but these multiple decisions shape the wine to a greater degree than whether this vineyard has a bit more limestone than that one. The juxtaposition of these wines at Burgfest reveals so much about decisions made by the winemaker because Burgundies are more sensitive than Bordeaux. Sometimes varicolored flights suggested the wines came from different countries, let alone exactly the same vineyard. See the evidence below. These are the five Clos Saint-Jacques, same walled vineyard and same vintage, all adjacent to each other.

Check out the article if you want to see the photo of some very different colored CSJs along with with a good writeup of 2015.

https://vinous.com/articles/blind-visio ... e-nov-2018
Leaving aside whether Martin mischaracterized the point of the tasting (see Jasper Morris’s post), it’s a mistake to say it’s one or the other.

Think of it like a textured surface, where an artist (read: winemaker) picks a color to apply to a given surface, which determines the texture (read: terroir). Someone who says the final surface is all the work of the artist is just as mistaken as someone who says it’s the given material. In fact, you can see both in the final product. And you can focus on the similarities of the artist’s color on different textures, or how the texture is expressed through different artists’ colors.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#21 Post by Wes Barton » June 9th, 2020, 11:21 am

He sounds really confused.
The mantra is that great wine is made in the vineyard, a priori, vineyard site is the determining factor.
A big part of "a great wine is made in the vineyard" is what is done in the vineyard, some of which is goes on to cite. The rest is the passive factor of terroir. Citing not great wines made that way due to not great choices in the vineyard and winery don't defeat this concept.

So, he himself ranks wines with a strong correlation to terroir hierarchy. As pointed out above, the tasting showed the contrast of decisions with grapes of a given terroir. The best wines show (or approach) the potential of that terroir. So, it's "Great wines made in the vineyard vs less-than-great wines made in the same vineyard (and possibly other suboptimal decisions)."
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#22 Post by J Wei » June 9th, 2020, 11:23 am

When it comes to burgundy, it seems the order to go by is: Producer, Vintage, then Vineyard.

Now that's not to say there aren't exception to this, but I do find the above to help narrow down the field when looking to buy or try new burgundies. I think we can agree that a producer can significantly alter what a wine from the same vineyard can taste.

Two great examples are: a horizontal flight of Clos St Jacque and a horizontal flight of Echezeaux. Both vineyards have many producers and you'll find that they all taste vastly different.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#23 Post by jordan jacobs » June 9th, 2020, 11:27 am

Scott McDonald wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 8:15 am
"On paper, Burgfest is an examination of terroir, since flights are organized by vineyard."

I disagree with Neal's premise here. In fact, it would seem the way the Burgfest tasting is set up is designed to largely ELIMINATE terroir as a variable, so that you can isolate and compare winemaker/viticulture influence. If you wanted to examine terroir, you'd organize the tasting by producer, comparing a single producer's Mazis-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, and Chambertin-Clos de Beze to each other.

It would seem the Burgfest tasting is designed to highlight precisely the winemaker influences he's complaining it's being overwhelmed by. Although I might agree with his conclusion that winemaking signatures overwhelm terroir signatures, I think he misunderstands the purpose of the format of the tasting.
I couldn’t agree more Scott. I’ll add, I hear more and more the desire of the winemaker to allow the wine to be more transparent to vineyard, allow the vineyard to speak for itself. I believe that there is too many variables in choices along the way to even let that be anything more than a nice sentiment in theory only.
Last edited by jordan jacobs on June 9th, 2020, 11:31 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#24 Post by Vincent Fritzsche » June 9th, 2020, 11:27 am

If Neal's point is true, does talent matter in athletics, or just the training protocol. That's terroir vs. winemaking, in another context, and I think the answer is clearly - BOTH. Good training can get the most out of any athlete, so yes, buy Burgundy by producer, not terroir. But if you want the best, it's the combination of producer and terroir.

So why do five wines from Clos St. Jacques taste different? Because terroir isn't as simple or obvious as that. I have six siblings, all from the same terroir, and we all are wildly distinct people, in personality, in hair color, in a variety of ways. And we have terroir indicators that connect us as family. But could you pick us out of a group of people as brothers and sisters? Would you disprove our terroir if you failed to pick us out? Or is the truth something finer and less obvious but no less real or important?

I think Neal's making this too simple, and of course that gives a simple answer, but I think it's incorrect.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#25 Post by Nick Christie » June 9th, 2020, 11:31 am

Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 11:03 am

Speaking as a wine lover, and not a very worldly one, I had an experience where I doubted my palate. It was on New Year's, and the restaurant's sommelier brought out a bottle which, so far, I have to consider one of the wines of my life (I'll give the stereotypical hipster statement - you've probably never heard of it). My first impression was of being overwhelmed, as if I had reached Nirvana. On the second glass I made an effort to be more analytical, yet the only conclusion I could reach was that the wine was perfect: delicious, complex, with no rough edges or shortcomings. It wasn't just the festive spirit animating my senses.

I doubted my own judgment afterwards. Not because my enjoyment wasn't valid, but because I'm not experienced enough to have tasted any of the wines that truly warrant a legendary status around the world, and so my standards must have been born out of inexperience. This made me think of all the terrific stuff which I'm missing and will likely never taste. Just like that, a positive experience gained a negative undertone.

Finally, some weeks later I started following an Instagram page of a Brazilian Berserker style wine lover who only reviews old (over 15 years old) wines. I don't know the guy's palate, but there, in the middle of great old champagne, Bordeaux and super toscans, was the wine I had had that New Year's Eve - and judging by his TN, he was just as overwhelmed by it as I was. I grinned!
Hahaha. Fantastic.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#26 Post by K John Joseph » June 9th, 2020, 11:45 am

JasperMorris wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 8:29 am
Exactly right, Scott

and it is me who organises the event... (which originated as an extension of Clive Coates' Bordeaux blind tasting sessions)
I get that but if, tasting across different producers from the same vineyard, one cannot identify to a commonality between the wines, surely one can make the next logical leap that the effect of terroir is overcome by wine making.

Then again, as Scott noted, it still tastes different than the next vineyard over, producer to producer...

I think the argument can get pretty circular pretty quickly
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#27 Post by Marshall Manning » June 9th, 2020, 11:51 am

Marcu$ Stanley wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 10:07 am
One thing I suspect is that people underrate weather and climate in "terroir" as compared to soil types. Weather goes way beyond temperatures obviously, it's humidity, the type of sun exposure, variation in temperatures over days and weeks and months, etc. Differences in wine styles across big geographic areas seem to point to weather as a major factor. Of course, in the era of climate change weather is not a constant...
Exactly. The French concept of "terroir" isn't just the soil. It's also climate, exposure, slope, drainage, elevation, and other factors. Of course, the growing and winemaking methods can help showcase, or reduce, this imprint depending on a myriad of choices.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#28 Post by Marshall Manning » June 9th, 2020, 12:00 pm

Vincent Fritzsche wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 11:27 am
If Neal's point is true, does talent matter in athletics, or just the training protocol. That's terroir vs. winemaking, in another context, and I think the answer is clearly - BOTH. Good training can get the most out of any athlete, so yes, buy Burgundy by producer, not terroir. But if you want the best, it's the combination of producer and terroir.
This is a good analogy. You could have spent millions training me to play basketball in my youth and I would never had been Michael Jordan. Nor even Kurt Rambis. You need to have the right raw materials along with the right winemaking to show terroir at its best.

And for those who don't believe that terroir exists, visit a producer who makes all of their wines with the same methods and taste through their lineup. If the site is the only real difference you can see it.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#29 Post by JasperMorris » June 9th, 2020, 12:37 pm

Neal felt like making a particular point, possibly chose the wrong vehicle to attach it to, but broadly speaking most of us would agree with him in not going along with terroir being trumpeted too loudly, especially in relation to producer. It should never be either/or in any case.

Wine in general, perhaps Burgundy in particular, is about the interaction of all these variables of which producer/terroir/vintage are most often cited but are not the only ones.

When somebody cites their appreciation of a particular vineyard it does not have to mean that they place the importance of vineyard over that of producer. What can be absolutely fascinating when you open a particular bottle is to find out whether vineyard, vigneron, vintage or some other aspect happens to be in the fore at that moment when you are drinking the wine. Secondary of course to whether or not the wine is providing the expected enjoyment.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#30 Post by eweininger » June 9th, 2020, 12:47 pm

Scott McDonald wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 8:15 am
"On paper, Burgfest is an examination of terroir, since flights are organized by vineyard."

I disagree with Neal's premise here. In fact, it would seem the way the Burgfest tasting is set up is designed to largely ELIMINATE terroir as a variable, so that you can isolate and compare winemaker/viticulture influence. If you wanted to examine terroir, you'd organize the tasting by producer, comparing a single producer's Mazis-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, and Chambertin-Clos de Beze to each other.

It would seem the Burgfest tasting is designed to highlight precisely the winemaker influences he's complaining it's being overwhelmed by. Although I might agree with his conclusion that winemaking signatures overwhelm terroir signatures, I think he misunderstands the purpose of the format of the tasting.

As someone who has asked the exact same question that Neal Martin discusses in the quoted paragraph—and asked it recently, on WB, at least couple of times—I don’t think he’s wrong to raise the issue at all.

To be clear, I’m not making any claim about the intentions of the folks who organize or run this tasting, its stated purpose, or anything along those lines. I’m simply saying it’s a perfectly valid question for a wine writer to pose, and that a tasting organized the way this one was could reasonably prompt such a question.

I take it as uncontroversial to say that all of us on this site make vintage generalizations: that is, when we talk about wines from some region—and it can be small (the Saar), it can be large (“Wester Europe”), it can be in between—we attribute certain of their characteristics to factors that vary from year to year (usually weather and temperature related). Again, all of us do this, and none of us think twice about it.

At risk of stating the banally obvious, there are two ways one can try to identify vintage-specific characteristics: by tasting within a vintage, and attempting to note commonalities, or tasting across vintages, and attempting to note differences. Presumably, we all do both.

It's perfectly legitimate ask whether certain wine characteristics are common to a particular site, as well. To be sure, this kind of generalization isn’t as common in wine talk as vintage generalizations are. But at least imho, it’s not at all rare, at least when people are discussing high prestige wine producing regions such as Burgundy, the Mosel, Napa, Piedmont, etc. If you think I’m wrong about this, don’t hesitate to say so; but I feel like I encounter these kinds of statements fairly regularly.

Here again, one way to warrant this type of claim is by holding invariant both vintage and site, and then tasting across producers in order to detect commonalities. One could also juxtapose against other sites, in order to detect differences. Etc.

To be clear, I’m not saying that I agree with Neal Martin’s conclusion that producer trumps site, in Burgundy or anywhere else. All I’m trying to do is argue that it’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask within the context of a tasting like the one being discussed, and to point out that some (many?) of us talk in these terms fairly often.

Lastly, while the mantra about producer over site and vintage certainly holds to a large extent in Burgundy pricing, it’s equally true, as Wes Barton pointed out, that within producers (i.e. within the lineup of individual producers), pricing almost always follows the same terroir hierarchy. So the premise that cross-producer site-level characteristics play a significant role in wine quality is certainly well-rooted in the market.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#31 Post by eweininger » June 9th, 2020, 12:52 pm

JasperMorris wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 12:37 pm
Neal felt like making a particular point, possibly chose the wrong vehicle to attach it to, but broadly speaking most of us would agree with him in not going along with terroir being trumpeted too loudly, especially in relation to producer. It should never be either/or in any case.

Wine in general, perhaps Burgundy in particular, is about the interaction of all these variables of which producer/terroir/vintage are most often cited but are not the only ones.

When somebody cites their appreciation of a particular vineyard it does not have to mean that they place the importance of vineyard over that of producer. What can be absolutely fascinating when you open a particular bottle is to find out whether vineyard, vigneron, vintage or some other aspect happens to be in the fore at that moment when you are drinking the wine. Secondary of course to whether or not the wine is providing the expected enjoyment.

Just saw this after my stream-of-consciousness post. I think it's pretty similar to what I was getting at, with pleasing brevity as well.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#32 Post by Mich@el Ch@ng » June 9th, 2020, 12:56 pm

It was interesting, though, that Martin panned all the Rousseau wines besides the CSJ.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#33 Post by Josh Grossman » June 9th, 2020, 1:20 pm

This reminds me of the scene in, 'I Heart Huckabees' where they think the two fractions are working together:
https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/b1af5105-2 ... e5e083fcda

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#34 Post by Markus S » June 9th, 2020, 2:05 pm

Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 11:03 am

(I'll give the stereotypical hipster statement - you've probably never heard of it).
I'm wondering what the hipster statement is...

Great discussion everyone!
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#35 Post by Tomás Costa » June 9th, 2020, 3:00 pm

Markus S wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 2:05 pm
Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 11:03 am

(I'll give the stereotypical hipster statement - you've probably never heard of it).
I'm wondering what the hipster statement is...

Great discussion everyone!
There's this running gag that whenever a hipster recommends a band, they're all too quick to add that we've probably never heard of it. It's usually a sign of elitism, a belief that they are superior to the average Top 40 mongrel. In my case there is absolutely no pretense of superiority: it's just that I genuinely don't think anyone on WB has ever heard of the wine I had that evening, except maybe Eric Ifune (and thank God for that - if they had, it would probably be a lot more expensive).

The conclusion I'm drawing from this thread is that I should look up the best Burgundy producers and get their Bourgogne and village wines. Luckily that was exactly the line of thinking I followed in my last order from a French retailer! I have little desire in blowing my savings on monster wine which won't reach its prime for many years anyway (and really, the last 2017 Village white I had was still too young).

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#36 Post by Todd F r e n c h » June 9th, 2020, 3:11 pm

Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 11:03 am
Nick Christie wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 10:30 am
Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:01 am
Am I really better off buying whites from Puligny-Chassagne-Meursault rather than the Mâconnais, Chablis or Côte Chalonnaise? And particularly when it's the same producer working in all those places at very different price ranges? Is it such a bad deal to buy reds from Volnay and Pommard rather than the more prestigious climats of the Côte de Nuits? Is the difference I'm paying ever a terroir based quality differentiator, or rather the result of high demand VS. low supply, which is itself fueled by the weight of tradition and by premium pricing? Does the Emperor have any clothes?
The clothes are our own :)

One of my favorite dialogues on this came from the Chocolate World, and the Mast Brothers. As their chocolate reputation grew, their 'brand' of terroir and specificity and uniqueness was exposed for being, shall we say, much less unique than they claimed (possibly mostly invented, at least at first).

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/21/nyre ... ythos.html

And yet their chocolate had dedicated fans, and to this day has many dedicated fans as they continue success. If you loved their chocolate, that should be just cool on its own, right? But what if someone reveals to you that what you love isn't due to a 'unique, totally original' engineering process, but rather a blend of the same tricks/processes everyone already uses?

Developing an authentic palate with 'consistency' is a part of the human endeavor. Personally, some of my favorite stories to tell regarding my own wine palate/experience/knowledge are when I was genuinely surprised by a wine, positively or negatively, i.e. a wine which doesn't normally tick my boxes of preference really spoke to me (or I appreciated its differences in a powerful manner) or a wine which was 'supposed' to tick my boxes of preferences was entirely underwhelming (and, in theory, not because of bottle flaws).

These dialogues can start open-ended and full of discovery and then evolve into more as we become sensitive, ashamed, or worried about being 'exposed'...

My own conclusion (shared by many, I am sure) is simply always, always push to better understand one's own palate. In art, music, food, wine, whatever.

In the Art World (where I have much less training, and much less 'special knowledge/experience') one of my favorite things to do is really sit, in person, with an acclaimed great work of art or collection of art from an acclaimed Master and see what happens in my own mind, i.e. sans pressure.

Ideally, we should be so fortunate with our wines.
Speaking as a musician, I have previously made the parallel with antique violins (on the Rudy Kurniawan thread) and how well or not so well they did in blind hearings compared to modern instruments. The most extraordinary instruments I've heard were those great antiques, but I fully believe Christian Tetzlaff when he claims his modern violin by Peter Greiner is just as good. Ning Feng's Greiner was mistaken for a Stradivarius when some of my colleagues heard him perform in Lisbon.

Speaking as a wine lover, and not a very worldly one, I had an experience where I doubted my palate. It was on New Year's, and the restaurant's sommelier brought out a bottle which, so far, I have to consider one of the wines of my life (I'll give the stereotypical hipster statement - you've probably never heard of it). My first impression was of being overwhelmed, as if I had reached Nirvana. On the second glass I made an effort to be more analytical, yet the only conclusion I could reach was that the wine was perfect: delicious, complex, with no rough edges or shortcomings. It wasn't just the festive spirit animating my senses.

I doubted my own judgment afterwards. Not because my enjoyment wasn't valid, but because I'm not experienced enough to have tasted any of the wines that truly warrant a legendary status around the world, and so my standards must have been born out of inexperience. This made me think of all the terrific stuff which I'm missing and will likely never taste. Just like that, a positive experience gained a negative undertone.

Finally, some weeks later I started following an Instagram page of a Brazilian Berserker style wine lover who only reviews old (over 15 years old) wines. I don't know the guy's palate, but there, in the middle of great old champagne, Bordeaux and super toscans, was the wine I had had that New Year's Eve - and judging by his TN, he was just as overwhelmed by it as I was. I grinned!
Wonderful analogy, Tomas - one I can particularly relate to! Greiner is one of the very best contemporary makers, and quite a few modern instruments have 'outperformed' Stradivari and Guarneri in test after test. Their value, however, is primarily in 'art'/collector value, not sound.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#37 Post by Tomás Costa » June 9th, 2020, 3:20 pm

Todd F r e n c h wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 3:11 pm
Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 11:03 am
Nick Christie wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 10:30 am


The clothes are our own :)

One of my favorite dialogues on this came from the Chocolate World, and the Mast Brothers. As their chocolate reputation grew, their 'brand' of terroir and specificity and uniqueness was exposed for being, shall we say, much less unique than they claimed (possibly mostly invented, at least at first).

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/21/nyre ... ythos.html

And yet their chocolate had dedicated fans, and to this day has many dedicated fans as they continue success. If you loved their chocolate, that should be just cool on its own, right? But what if someone reveals to you that what you love isn't due to a 'unique, totally original' engineering process, but rather a blend of the same tricks/processes everyone already uses?

Developing an authentic palate with 'consistency' is a part of the human endeavor. Personally, some of my favorite stories to tell regarding my own wine palate/experience/knowledge are when I was genuinely surprised by a wine, positively or negatively, i.e. a wine which doesn't normally tick my boxes of preference really spoke to me (or I appreciated its differences in a powerful manner) or a wine which was 'supposed' to tick my boxes of preferences was entirely underwhelming (and, in theory, not because of bottle flaws).

These dialogues can start open-ended and full of discovery and then evolve into more as we become sensitive, ashamed, or worried about being 'exposed'...

My own conclusion (shared by many, I am sure) is simply always, always push to better understand one's own palate. In art, music, food, wine, whatever.

In the Art World (where I have much less training, and much less 'special knowledge/experience') one of my favorite things to do is really sit, in person, with an acclaimed great work of art or collection of art from an acclaimed Master and see what happens in my own mind, i.e. sans pressure.

Ideally, we should be so fortunate with our wines.
Speaking as a musician, I have previously made the parallel with antique violins (on the Rudy Kurniawan thread) and how well or not so well they did in blind hearings compared to modern instruments. The most extraordinary instruments I've heard were those great antiques, but I fully believe Christian Tetzlaff when he claims his modern violin by Peter Greiner is just as good. Ning Feng's Greiner was mistaken for a Stradivarius when some of my colleagues heard him perform in Lisbon.

Speaking as a wine lover, and not a very worldly one, I had an experience where I doubted my palate. It was on New Year's, and the restaurant's sommelier brought out a bottle which, so far, I have to consider one of the wines of my life (I'll give the stereotypical hipster statement - you've probably never heard of it). My first impression was of being overwhelmed, as if I had reached Nirvana. On the second glass I made an effort to be more analytical, yet the only conclusion I could reach was that the wine was perfect: delicious, complex, with no rough edges or shortcomings. It wasn't just the festive spirit animating my senses.

I doubted my own judgment afterwards. Not because my enjoyment wasn't valid, but because I'm not experienced enough to have tasted any of the wines that truly warrant a legendary status around the world, and so my standards must have been born out of inexperience. This made me think of all the terrific stuff which I'm missing and will likely never taste. Just like that, a positive experience gained a negative undertone.

Finally, some weeks later I started following an Instagram page of a Brazilian Berserker style wine lover who only reviews old (over 15 years old) wines. I don't know the guy's palate, but there, in the middle of great old champagne, Bordeaux and super toscans, was the wine I had had that New Year's Eve - and judging by his TN, he was just as overwhelmed by it as I was. I grinned!
Wonderful analogy, Tomas - one I can particularly relate to! Greiner is one of the very best contemporary makers, and quite a few modern instruments have 'outperformed' Stradivari and Guarneri in test after test. Their value, however, is primarily in 'art'/collector value, not sound.
Wow, glad you agree! I'm currently on the waiting list for an instrument by one of his former disciples/assistants, which will be ready in November. It's around the same price as a DRC Grand Cru, but doesn't wear out after one use.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#38 Post by Marc Hauser » June 9th, 2020, 3:45 pm

I always thought the concept of terroir was bullshit anyway.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#39 Post by Alan Rath » June 9th, 2020, 5:23 pm

Marc Hauser wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 3:45 pm
I always thought the concept of terroir was bullshit anyway.
Well, on this you are wrong. But the tug of war between terroir, wine growing/making, vintage, and other factors, is real, and always present.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#40 Post by Howard Cooper » June 9th, 2020, 5:36 pm

Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:01 am
Aha. Here is the elephant in the room I had always wanted to address, yet was in fear of doing so out of my presumable ignorance or inexperience. And here is my question: are the famous Côte d'Or climats worth the premium you pay on them?

I am thinking of two tastings I've done over the past year. Both were of wines I enjoyed: a horizontal by a small Lisbon based producer, and a comparative tasting of different Dão producers' top wines. After the former tasting a member of the audience asked the producer about prices. They were astronomical - some might say Burgundian, I suppose. But as in Burgundy, he was operating with small plots of land and production numbers, with a quality based approach.

In the Dão tasting, I singled out two wines for opposing reasons. One was fresh, quirky, provocative. The other, though balanced and competently made, was boring for my taste - too consensual. It wasn't until the magazine came out that I realized the wine I had prefered was half the price of the other one.

Am I really better off buying whites from Puligny-Chassagne-Meursault rather than the Mâconnais, Chablis or Côte Chalonnaise? And particularly when it's the same producer working in all those places at very different price ranges? Is it such a bad deal to buy reds from Volnay and Pommard rather than the more prestigious climats of the Côte de Nuits? Is the difference I'm paying ever a terroir based quality differentiator, or rather the result of high demand VS. low supply, which is itself fueled by the weight of tradition and by premium pricing? Does the Emperor have any clothes?
There are two things I have found out drinking Burgundy for over 30 years. One is pick producer over everything else (an exception to this over the last 20 years or so is to avoid 2004 reds without tasting first - even some excellent producers made poor wines in this vintage). The producer does not have to be the most famous and expensive producer. There are always excellent quality producers who are a bit under the radar, sometimes because they are young and upcoming. But, a quality producer will often make better wines from lesser terroir than a poor producer will make from excellent terroir.

Second, when you are tasting a range of wines from a single excellent producer, the wines from better terroir tend to be better than the wines of lesser terroir. There can be exceptions because of things like vine age, portions of vineyards that are over or underrated, vintage, age of wine, etc., but I have never tasted a Bourgogne Rouge from a quality producer that is as good as his grand cru from the same vintage. The Bourgogne can sometimes be more enjoyable to drink because the grand cru is too young, but the grand cru is always the better wine in my experience.

Please don't ever, ever think that the second paragraph overrules the first paragraph.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#41 Post by Howard Cooper » June 9th, 2020, 5:39 pm

Sean S y d n e y wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:53 am


I will tell you that the 2002 Jadot Clos St. Jacques I had last year was definitely one of the top 3 wines I have had in my life.
Clos St. Jacques is an example is an underrated terroir. It probably should be a grand cru, but I would rather it be a premier cru because prices would go up if it were a grand cru.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#42 Post by Sean S y d n e y » June 9th, 2020, 6:03 pm

Howard Cooper wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 5:39 pm

Clos St. Jacques is an example is an underrated terroir. It probably should be a grand cru, but I would rather it be a premier cru because prices would go up if it were a grand cru.
I was shocked at how "little" it was being sold for (I was at Sotheby's on a trip to NYC picking up an order and saw it and bought it on impulse) and while I'm no expert on Grand Crus, it seemed to be on another level from most other premier crus I have had (and also appeared to be perfectly in its prime). I think the secret's out though - I don't know if there's that much value to be had from the Clos St Jacques/Malconsorts/Amoureuses/Suchots of the world anymore but there are almost certainly no aged GCs of quality on offer for what I paid for the Jadot.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#43 Post by Tomás Costa » June 9th, 2020, 6:07 pm

Howard Cooper wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 5:36 pm
Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 9:01 am
Aha. Here is the elephant in the room I had always wanted to address, yet was in fear of doing so out of my presumable ignorance or inexperience. And here is my question: are the famous Côte d'Or climats worth the premium you pay on them?

I am thinking of two tastings I've done over the past year. Both were of wines I enjoyed: a horizontal by a small Lisbon based producer, and a comparative tasting of different Dão producers' top wines. After the former tasting a member of the audience asked the producer about prices. They were astronomical - some might say Burgundian, I suppose. But as in Burgundy, he was operating with small plots of land and production numbers, with a quality based approach.

In the Dão tasting, I singled out two wines for opposing reasons. One was fresh, quirky, provocative. The other, though balanced and competently made, was boring for my taste - too consensual. It wasn't until the magazine came out that I realized the wine I had prefered was half the price of the other one.

Am I really better off buying whites from Puligny-Chassagne-Meursault rather than the Mâconnais, Chablis or Côte Chalonnaise? And particularly when it's the same producer working in all those places at very different price ranges? Is it such a bad deal to buy reds from Volnay and Pommard rather than the more prestigious climats of the Côte de Nuits? Is the difference I'm paying ever a terroir based quality differentiator, or rather the result of high demand VS. low supply, which is itself fueled by the weight of tradition and by premium pricing? Does the Emperor have any clothes?
There are two things I have found out drinking Burgundy for over 30 years. One is pick producer over everything else (an exception to this over the last 20 years or so is to avoid 2004 reds without tasting first - even some excellent producers made poor wines in this vintage). The producer does not have to be the most famous and expensive producer. There are always excellent quality producers who are a bit under the radar, sometimes because they are young and upcoming. But, a quality producer will often make better wines from lesser terroir than a poor producer will make from excellent terroir.

Second, when you are tasting a range of wines from a single excellent producer, the wines from better terroir tend to be better than the wines of lesser terroir. There can be exceptions because of things like vine age, portions of vineyards that are over or underrated, vintage, age of wine, etc., but I have never tasted a Bourgogne Rouge from a quality producer that is as good as his grand cru from the same vintage. The Bourgogne can sometimes be more enjoyable to drink because the grand cru is too young, but the grand cru is always the better wine in my experience.

Please don't ever, ever think that the second paragraph overrules the first paragraph.
AFAIK the difference between a Bourgogne and a Grand Cru, for labelling purposes, is in the provenance of the grapes. This leads me to conclude - and I might be saying something stupid here, but bear with me - that what makes the Grand Cru big and cellarworthy and the Bourgogne an easy drinker mostly boils down to vinification techniques. Even if the Grand Cru grapes have higher potential alcohol, I can't see that being the only factor. What would a Bourgogne look like if it were made in the manner of a Grand Cru? The guys in the Gironde have been making big, cellar worthy wines out of blends for their entire History.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#44 Post by John Morris » June 9th, 2020, 6:24 pm

Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 6:07 pm
AFAIK the difference between a Bourgogne and a Grand Cru, for labelling purposes, is in the provenance of the grapes. This leads me to conclude - and I might be saying something stupid here, but bear with me - that what makes the Grand Cru big and cellarworthy and the Bourgogne an easy drinker mostly boils down to vinification techniques. Even if the Grand Cru grapes have higher potential alcohol, I can't see that being the only factor. What would a Bourgogne look like if it were made in the manner of a Grand Cru? The guys in the Gironde have been making big, cellar worthy wines out of blends for their entire History.
In most cases, the appellation Bourgogne fruit won't have the same concentration or complexity as the grand cru fruit. So if you treat the Bourgogne like a grand cru -- with a longer maceration on the skins, more stems, smaller barrels, new oak, longer aging -- you'll likely end up with an unbalanced wine, probably with too much oak and too much tannin for the fruit. Lighter wines (i.e., lower appellations) generally call for a lighter touch.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#45 Post by Sean S y d n e y » June 9th, 2020, 6:27 pm

Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 6:07 pm
AFAIK the difference between a Bourgogne and a Grand Cru, for labelling purposes, is in the provenance of the grapes. This leads me to conclude - and I might be saying something stupid here, but bear with me - that what makes the Grand Cru big and cellarworthy and the Bourgogne an easy drinker mostly boils down to vinification techniques. Even if the Grand Cru grapes have higher potential alcohol, I can't see that being the only factor. What would a Bourgogne look like if it were made in the manner of a Grand Cru? The guys in the Gironde have been making big, cellar worthy wines out of blends for their entire History.
I visited Burgundy last year and the difference in geography is immediately apparent. The Bourgogne wines all come from the "other side of the road" where the land is flat and the soil has more clay, generally making for less precise and complex wines with more forward fruit and less weight as well as more fertile and higher yielding vines. The 1er and Grand Crus are entirely on the slopes which has ramifications in exposure, drainage, soil types, and a host of other things. That's not an accident.

There is generally more oak usage on the GCs as well as a different vinification process, it's true, and some producers don't pay nearly the attention to the Bourgogne that they should but someone like Fréderic Mugnier treats all of his wines the same (though admittedly no Bourgogne) and there are stark differences between the Chambolle villages and the Bonnes Mares (each of which I've had one sip, once). The more prestigious wines are able to "take" more oak influence and extraction because of their structure, yes, which also means they have the ability to maintain that structure as they age and develop the desired complexity rather than the Bourgogne becoming anemic and tired over time. I do think the aging potential of a lot of Bourgogne and villages wines is underrated, though, but that's a different argument.

Ultimately, again, a good producer knows their terroirs and adjusts accordingly. They'll know how to treat each parcel to get the best possible result from it.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#46 Post by alan weinberg » June 9th, 2020, 6:54 pm

best way to look at terroir, or “somewhereness,” as Matt Kramer called it, is to line up a bunch of wines such as Chevillons Nuits from the same year. Wines all have same élevage and it’s the terroir that speaks. Terroir is real, sometimes masked by producer decisions, but shines with “transparency” in the right hands.

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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#47 Post by Howard Cooper » June 9th, 2020, 7:11 pm

John Morris wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 6:24 pm
Tomás Costa wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 6:07 pm
AFAIK the difference between a Bourgogne and a Grand Cru, for labelling purposes, is in the provenance of the grapes. This leads me to conclude - and I might be saying something stupid here, but bear with me - that what makes the Grand Cru big and cellarworthy and the Bourgogne an easy drinker mostly boils down to vinification techniques. Even if the Grand Cru grapes have higher potential alcohol, I can't see that being the only factor. What would a Bourgogne look like if it were made in the manner of a Grand Cru? The guys in the Gironde have been making big, cellar worthy wines out of blends for their entire History.
In most cases, the appellation Bourgogne fruit won't have the same concentration or complexity as the grand cru fruit. So if you treat the Bourgogne like a grand cru -- with a longer maceration on the skins, more stems, smaller barrels, new oak, longer aging -- you'll likely end up with an unbalanced wine, probably with too much oak and too much tannin for the fruit. Lighter wines (i.e., lower appellations) generally call for a lighter touch.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#48 Post by Marc Hauser » June 9th, 2020, 10:02 pm

Alan Rath wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 5:23 pm
Marc Hauser wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 3:45 pm
I always thought the concept of terroir was bullshit anyway.
Well, on this you are wrong. But the tug of war between terroir, wine growing/making, vintage, and other factors, is real, and always present.
You can disagree with my opinion, and I can disagree with yours. But objectively “wrong”? Seems like this thread shows that’s a tough one to prove.

It’s kinda like faith in a god. Tough to prove there is or isn’t a god, so there’s faith. That doesn’t make faith right or wrong - it’s a personal perspective.
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#49 Post by DanielP » June 9th, 2020, 10:55 pm

Marc Hauser wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 10:02 pm
Alan Rath wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 5:23 pm
Marc Hauser wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 3:45 pm
I always thought the concept of terroir was bullshit anyway.
Well, on this you are wrong. But the tug of war between terroir, wine growing/making, vintage, and other factors, is real, and always present.
You can disagree with my opinion, and I can disagree with yours. But objectively “wrong”? Seems like this thread shows that’s a tough one to prove.

It’s kinda like faith in a god. Tough to prove there is or isn’t a god, so there’s faith. That doesn’t make faith right or wrong - it’s a personal perspective.
Not really. Martin isn't saying that terroir doesn't matter or is bullshit, just that winemaking decisions matter more.

The basic premise of terroir is not all that controversial. Does where I grow grapes significantly affect its quality? Of course. Climate, exposure, and soil are all well established to have significant impact on grape-growing. Warmer weather impacts a different flavor profile compared to cooler weather.

Maybe you meant something far more specific when you said "terroir is bullshit"
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Re: Terroir vs winemaking -- Neal Martin lays the smack down

#50 Post by Alan Rath » June 9th, 2020, 11:06 pm

Marc Hauser wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 10:02 pm
Alan Rath wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 5:23 pm
Marc Hauser wrote:
June 9th, 2020, 3:45 pm
I always thought the concept of terroir was bullshit anyway.
Well, on this you are wrong. But the tug of war between terroir, wine growing/making, vintage, and other factors, is real, and always present.
You can disagree with my opinion, and I can disagree with yours. But objectively “wrong”? Seems like this thread shows that’s a tough one to prove.

It’s kinda like faith in a god. Tough to prove there is or isn’t a god, so there’s faith. That doesn’t make faith right or wrong - it’s a personal perspective.
Sorry, I don’t disagree with your opinion. I’m saying you are factually wrong. It’s not personal perspective, at least not once you’ve had enough experience to recognize the reality of terroir. When you taste through the multiple vineyards of a producer year after year, and see the relationship of each wine to its source, terroir becomes quite apparent and obvious. And no, it’s not like faith in god. There is no evidence you could present that demonstrates god exists. There is clear evidence that terroir exists.

This thread doesn’t negate terroir, though it does make a valid point that growing and winemaking choices can mask or distort terroir. Find the producers who transform their fruit into wine in the most direct and transparent way, and the notion of terroir becomes unassailable.
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