To my readers: Sorry I didn't post last night. We went to Canada over the weekend and when I got home from work last night it was just about all I could do to make dinner and go upstairs to bed.
To continue my thoughts regarding terroir, I've taste-tested coffees and chocolates from various regions around the world. And in so doing, I know I've tasted the terroir of these regions. So the question is: why can I taste the terroir of coffee and chocolate, but didn't recognize it in the wine?
Part of the answer lies in the products themselves and how they are treated. With coffee there is a limited amount of processing that can affect the flavor significantly: type of tree planted (robusta vs. arabica), ripeness at harvest, wet/dry processing, darkness of roast, size of grind, and type of brew (drip, percolate, boil). None of these processes affect the fundamental character of the coffee; the most they can do is highlight certain flavor notes the drinker is interested in. Granted which sub-type of arabica that is grown does affect the flavor, but overall, the character of the microclimate/microgeology (I will use these terms for the physical nature of terroir to keep it distinct from the flavor nature) still come through.
In producing a bottle of wine, the vintner makes many more decisions that will affect the flavor of the final product. Not only does he choose the variety of grape, irrigation, fertilization, etc., just as the coffee producer does with coffee, but he also chooses the variety of yeast he uses (and there are dozens, each with their own characteristic flavor they lend to the wine), how long the fermentation occurs, whether he ages in steel or oak barrels, how long he ages the wine, whether he blends wines from different fields or different years, when and how he clarifies/racks the wine, how and if he stops the fermentation, whether or not to add sugar to increase the sweetness (or the alcoholic yield), to name a few. I find that these decisions more strongly affected the flavor profiles of the wines we sampled than did the microclimate/microgeology.
As I said last week, none of those who were tasting were experienced in sampling the terroir of wine. I believe to fully appreciate terroir I will need some guidance from oeniphiles more experienced in discerning its distinction than I am. I'm not surprised by this; I know there's a lot more out there for me to learn about wine.