Last year, Abadía Retuerta launched The Terruño Academy. It is aimed at professionals, but the basic contents of this training programme are perfectly understandable for any consumer who wants to enjoy a glass of wine.
One of the recurrent challenges of wine is that people feel intimidated by the complexity of this drink. Better order a beer rather than making a fool of oneself, many may think.
The truth is that wine can actually be a lot easier than it seems. Furthermore, it can be overwhelmingly logical. If we consider the four pillars on which The Terroir Academy is based —soil, climate, grape varieties and the human factor—, we already have most of the work done.
Deep down, what sets wine apart from other beverages and makes it so exciting and complex is the fact that it always comes from one place. Wines originate from somewhere: Rioja, Ribera, Champagne, New Zealand, Patagonia or Sierra de Gata.
So the next time you are confronted with a blackboard full of names, instead of looking for the easiest and best-known option (hence the term “riojitis” coined by trade professionals), simply think that wines taste different depending on where grapes come from.
A wine from Galicia, exposed to the Atlantic climate, is not the same as one from a mountain region in inland Spain or one from vineyards that lie close to the Mediterranean coast. Cool climate wines have more acidity; in inland areas, with sharp variations in night/day temperatures, greater concentration is achieved; in areas of Mediterranean influence, grapes tend to be riper and they often display the area’s distinctive aromas (rosemary, thyme, etc.). If you ask a sommelier to serve you a fresh white, he or she will likely suggest Albariño or Txakoli.
Tempranillo, Garnacha, Viura, Cabernet Sauvignon, Albariño, Verdejo or Moscatel are names of grape varieties. Over 200 of them are grown in Spain, although many of these varieties are barely testimonial in the vineyards. Grapes are often located in very specific areas: for example Albariño in Rías Baixas, Verdejo in Rueda or Monastrell in Jumilla and Alicante. Tempranillo and Garnacha, on the other hand, are widely cultivated across Spain. There are some varieties that are found almost all over the world because of the desire to emulate highly prestigious wines such as Bordeaux (most of them made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) or Burgundy (Pinot Noir and the white Chardonnay, which are also the dominant grapes in Champagne). There are wines on the market that are made by blending different varieties or that are made from a single variety. In the second case, it is very common to order the wine by its variety. “May I please have a glass of Albariño, Verdejo, Tempranillo…”
Vineyards are farmed by people, and wines are made by people. Many decisions must be taken during the long process of making a wine: where to plant a vineyard, with what grapes and when to harvest, how the grapes are fermented, whether to age them in oak or in another vessel and for how long. All of these factors will influence the final result.
As you can imagine, there are many factors at stake but consumers do not necessarily have to know or master them. All they need to know is that these factors exist, that they will determine the final taste of the wine and that, in many cases, they are directly associated with the winery’s ethos or the winemaker’s vision. The classicism of Vega Sicilia, for example, whose wines are aged for a long time, is completely different to the fruity and very expressive style that we find in most Abadía Retuerta wines.
Of the four elements that make up the concept of terroir, soil is the most complex to understand. It is sufficient to know that it is there and that it is sometimes mentioned on wine labels (albariza, slate, granite…). If you ever come across a wine lover who talks with excitement about the soil of any given wine, you are undoubtedly in the presence of a wine nerd.
Without needing to go too deep, a very useful idea to keep in mind is that when we enjoy a quality wine, what we are really doing is tasting a landscape.
In future blog articles, we’ll write in more detail about each of these factors to encourage you to try new styles or to order wines in different ways.