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Terroir may be elusive but quality is in the tasting

Eikendal Infused by Earth are premium quality wines
CREAM OF CROP: Eikendal Infused by Earth are premium quality wines 
Image: SUPPLIED

Terroir must be one of the most overused, misunderstood, contested and yet also highly influential, terms in the world of wine.

Not even the scientists and academics of viticulture and oenology can agree on a firm definition of the word, and some even dismiss it completely as a myth.

Terroir is generally said to be the characteristics of the soil, climate (temperature, wind, rainfall, sunlight and so on), physical features of terrain like elevation and topography, and surrounding flora and fauna.

Simply put, it’s about how the complex interaction of all these factors gives a wine from a particular place a particular character and taste — its “somewhereness”, or the buzz phrase of “sense of place”.

Some also argue that terroir is not only physical and natural characteristics but also incorporates the human element — the heritage, traditions, knowledge and farming practices of the people who are part of the ecosystem and have interacted with and modified the natural conditions of a piece of land over generations or centuries.

The concept of terroir helps winemakers in areas such as Champagne and Burgundy to argue for name protection on the basis that it is the special characteristics of their land that lend their wines their distinctive taste and character, creating a link between place and quality.

When winemakers say that great wines are made in the vineyard, they’re also linking quality to place and adding a terroir-driven boost to the value of the real estate.

The uniqueness and value of particular sites of terroir also, in turn, add a boost to the price tag of the bottle of wine.

A case in point, of wines made specifically to showcase particular terroir, are the Infused by Earth wines of Eikendal in Stellenbosch’s “golden triangle”, made only in years of exceptional quality, from specific vineyards, and positioned at the estate’s premium level.

From a vintage hailed as one of SA’s best in recent years, the 2017 Infused by Earth Cabernet Franc and Infused by Earth Chardonnay were released late last year, only the second bottling of these wines.

Eikendal has a particular focus on chardonnay, producing no fewer than five single variety versions — the traditional wooded chardonnay, the Janina unwooded, a Blanc de Blancs MCC, and at the top levels, the quite fabulous Mon Désir from Elgin grapes and the Infused by Earth.

The Infused by Earth Chardonnay (R675) is made from unirrigated bush vines on a piece of super-distinctive Stellenbosch terroir, a hill on the lower slopes of the Helderberg overlooking False Bay, often buffeted by ocean winds.

The harsh environment where vines struggle produces grapes of intensity and distinctive character.

Matured for 16 months in granite pots and new oak, the wine is fragrant with citrus and nuttiness, a touch of pineapple, a hint of flint, carrying through into a palate rich with deep citrus, almost marmalade, and a finely textured mouthfeel.

The fruit zest and lively acidity balance the richness and weight as layers of flavours unfold and carry through onto a long, smooth finish.

With its silky richness, intensity of flavours with poise and delicacy, this is something very special and a beautiful treat for a Chardonnay lover.

Similarly, Infused by Earth Cabernet Franc (R800) is a wine lover’s delight, from a 20-year-old single vineyard, matured in mostly older oak for a year and then in the bottle for a further three years before release.

The wine is quite delicate and restrained, the nose floral along with typical cab franc leafiness, a touch of pencil shavings and subtle black pepper.

The flavours balance freshness and delicate berry fruits with savouriness carrying through onto the finish.

Both wines are drinking well now, but would also be a great addition to a cellar for some further maturation.

Can you taste the terroir? It’s hard to say, but these are certainly wines of exceptional distinctiveness.

 

 

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