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Snooth User: Badge4

Was wondering if anyone's read Terroir and Other Myths of Winegrowing

Posted by Badge4, May 30, 2016.

This book looks enticing but was looking for feedback from anyone who may have read it.

 

Thanks

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Reply by dmcker, May 31, 2016.

Haven't read it yet but looks interesting, and it's certainly from a decent publisher. Timely, yet not the first time many of his arguments have been made, even here on these boards.

Some useful links:

Neither Jarvis nor Atkin seem to buy the premise of his book, though Tom Wark apparently does:

"I came away from reading Matthews essay on terroir more thoroughly convinced than ever that the idea of 'terroir' is likely the most abused and often most useless word in the world of wine. . . . 'Terroir and Other Myths of Winegrowing' is a book that is well worth reading, particularly by those who work in the wine industry either in the vineyard, in the cellar or in marketing." -- Tom Wark "Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog" (04/04/2016)

 

An excerpt from the book's epilogue, courtesy of Google:

"The recent growth of the biodynamic movement in winegrowing is indicative of thinking in the world of wine that tends to cling to mystery and traditional beliefs. It is not surprising that it is in winegrapes, not raisins or table grapes, that biodynamics has made the most inroads in viticulture. If successful there, we may see coffee follow, as it has with terroir.

"In short, viticulture could just as well drop terroir and the other myths of winegrowing. We clearly do not know as much about wine-growing as the conventional wisdom indicates, because predictions of the popular myths are so often not realized. At the same time, today things are better in the vineyard and in the bottle than we could have arrived at by blindly following the received wisdom of winegrowing. There is much fine wine today produced in more places than before and not because we have produced lower yields, smaller and smaller berries, or planted on increasingly exceptional soil (or rock).

"The linguist Noam Chomsky is widely cited for suggesting that our ignorance can be divided into problems and mysteries, in that "when we face a problem, we may not know its solution, but we have insight, increasing knowledge, and an inkling of what we are looking for. When we face a mystery, however, we can only stare in wonder." Certainly there's no mystery in seeking the highest Brix possible before harvesting. We are similarly faced with little mystery when it comes to evaluating the impact of environment and farming practices on grapes. To a viticulturist, these problems stand as interesting opportunities to contribute to the advancement of winegrowing. Winegrowing has advanced along with modern agriculture to farm grapes better.

"This review of the major myths of winegrowing does not attempt to bring the reader up to date on the environmental biology of the grapevine, and the role of improved pest and disease control was underplayed in this book. But at the end of the day we have healthier grapevines and better grapes because of increased understanding of the temperature, light, water, and nutrient requirements of the grapevine. These healthier vines produced the long-term trend toward higher yields and better wines from riper, sounder grapes. A result is that even with greater yields, the concern for attaining the fruit maturity required for fine wine is diminished, if not eliminated in some regions, especially where climate warming has enhanced the length and warmth of the season. Further refinements in vineyard management that improve winegrapes have come from attention to managing the cluster microclimate and early-season vine-environment interactions (e.g., fruit exposure to light and vine water status).

"Nevertheless, there is still much more that is unknown about optimal winegrowing conditions than is known, and it is helpful to acknowledge our limited understanding. The retelling of the popular myths has molded today's common understanding of winegrowing, even shaping the views of some scholars. The popularity of these myths contributes to the prevailing wind (illustrated in Hillel's "Pat to New Knowledge," fig. 4) that impedes the pursuit of knowledge of the grapevine that would promote quality, efficiency, and innovation in the vineyard. The received wisdom restricts progress, in part by discouraging questions (which promoters claim have already been answered) and constraining interpretations and exposure of relevant evidence.

"When approaching a problem as complicated as winegrowing with a "beginner's mind," more possibilities are available, leading to more options for sites, variety selection, and cultural practices. New clarity about how the grape ripens cannot be generated from an armchair, and research investment in viticulture has been remarkably low when compared to other crops and to the value of the industry, despite many studies that show return on investment in agricultural research is very high. Incredibly, the role of yield in grape and wine quality is not understood (or even studied extensively) despite its fundamental roles in grape sales and wine supply. The available research falls short of what is needed to make informed decisions in the vineyard."

 

 

A lengthy excerpt yet I felt it served to get the writer's style and viewpoint across--enough to jumpstart some discussion, anyway.

When you look at vested interest and political viewpoint of the writer (as you need to do for every writer writing anything about anything), it's apparent that he's an academician (UC Davis) who likely started his career in crop science, and that amongst other things he is pitching for more work for his own group of colleagues. What I'd like to know, however, is what kind of wine has he drunk and what does he like? That can't help but inform his views on whether and how viticulture is qualitatively improving, and even on why intelligent, experienced people want to use the word 'terroir'.   ;-)

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Reply by outthere, May 31, 2016.

There has been a discussion including this book on WineBerserkers. I would read the book based purely on this post by Matthews contemporary from UC Davis, Carole Meredith

 
 
 
Post #19  by Carole Meredith » Wed Apr 20, 2016 5:22 pm
TomHill wrote:
"I would be very much interested in Carole Meredith's take on Matthew's book, a lady who is equally at home (I think) in the scientific community and the fine-wine community."
 
Where to start? First, I have read only parts of Matthews' book and may never have the time to read the whole thing, so that is a limitation. (But not reading the book certainly hasn't stopped many other people from commenting on it.)
 
The book deals with 3 topics around which Matthews thinks myths have been built -- yield vs quality, vine balance, and terroir. (Keep in mind that the definition of myth that he is using is "a traditional story that serves as an attempt to explain what would otherwise be a mystery. As such, the explanation may be true, false, or somewhere in between.") Most people have been reacting to the terroir section of the book because that is such a sacred concept in the world of fine wine. As Tom suggests, I do have some perspective on this issue because I'm both a plant scientist and a wine producer. I've also known and worked with Mark Matthews for over 30 years and have a very high regard for his intellect, knowledge and analytical thinking. He is an environmental plant physiologist and so his expertise and experience are in the very thing that terroir is about -- the influence of the environment on the biological functions of the grapevine. 
 
Matthews doesn't discount terroir at all as a significant determinant of grape composition and wine flavor. He simply thinks that "terroir" has become an oversimplified belief system that is accepted without examination because it comes from people presumed to be experts. I think his book stems from his concern over what he perceives as a lack of critical thinking among those who consider themselves wine experts, particularly whose who sell wine, write about wine, and review wine. He thinks these people are quick to attribute their own subjective and very personal perception of the distinctive attributes of a particular wine to "terroir" without any objective basis, because they believe in terroir. 
 
I don't think I can say much more without reading more of the book.
 
Carole Meredith 
Lagier Meredith Vineyard 
Mount Veeder, Napa
 
 
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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 31, 2016.

Oops, should have looked here before I mentioned this book elsewhere.

I just finished the book.  It's clear and presents a fair bit of technical information without being too hard for someone with only fairly basic science training.

Carole Meredith's comments are pretty consistent with the reviews I've read as far as public reaction. 

Almost anyone who has a bone to pick with Matthews is someone who has no actual scientific experience and will likely be revealed as a bit of a mystic.  What Matthews is saying about the "terroir" explanation is that you can't claim something exists and is important if you also refuse to define it in a way that can be measured.  Unless, of course, getting people to take it on faith that ONLY Burgundian PN (whatever that is) could possibly be worth $120-200-575-1500--10,000 a bottle is your goal.  He talks about how the balance of power had shifted to wine critics, although I think it is a bit more complicated, as there's a certain collusion to being able to taste rare and expensive wines as a critic (and to think you have a special appreciation for them) but is now shifting again with the advent of online forums and tasting notes. 

He also points out that the critics, experts, producers, sommeliers, all fail badly at being able to pick out the "French" classed growths from the Cali upstarts, the wines from Burgundy from Oregon PN, and so on. 

He covers the origins of the ideas, then he explains the physiology when it's understood, or suggests that more work needs to be done.  He points out that there is often a grain of truth about certain myths. He calls two of the myths "Big Berries are Bad," and High Yield, Low Quality," and explains why they might seem to be true--certain factors that lead to, say, smaller berries in some cases result in higher solutes in the grapes, but it's not the berry size that matters, it's when they received (or were deprived of) certain inputs that led to the concentration of flavors/tannins.  So, if your berries were small because they were deprived of water at the wrong time, nothing good would come of it, and, in general, the berry size doesn't correlate at all well to the concentration of solutes and tannins, which is (to the extent we know anything) what results in flavor.  Similarly, he points out that increased yields might actually help delay ripening, which would lead to lower sugar rises in sugar concentration with similar ripening in other ways.  In other words, in Napa, if there really is an issue of phenolic maturity lagging sugar ripeness in the hotter areas (a point he is not completely convinced of, as he covers the misuse of "physiological maturity" in one chapter), getting lower brix with a late harvest, thus increasing "hang time" could be achieved by increasing yields.  You want more classically styled wines and not high alcohol fruit bombs?  Stop dropping clusters, or at least drop fewer.

It's a provocative book. I read the criticism before reading the book and shrugged.  (I also read the front matter and learned that friends of my wife contributed to getting it to press, so there's full disclosure.)  I read it avidly and agree with Matthews that "terroir" and a host of other myths need to be explained by something other than mumbo-jumbo.  That something is science, and he makes a good case for funding more research in winegrape physiology and wine quality. 

Not light reading, but at just around 200 pages (not including a huge number of footnotes and references), well worth the time. 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 31, 2016.

For a fun read of the whole nonsense of wine, try Quandt's article or  Robin Goldstein's hoax on Wine Spectator.  More seriously, Coco Krumme wrote a good piece about the correlation between wine descriptors and price. 

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Reply by GregT, May 31, 2016.

It should be read by anyone interested in knowing about wine beyond the typical brainless blogger and the "wine writer" Matt Kramer Alice Feiring dreck.

 

Although truth be told I owe Matt because it was after reading his column dismissing the book that I went out and bought it.

Fox summed it up. Essentially he explains why the received wisdom is bullshit. Highly recommended.

 

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Reply by dmcker, May 31, 2016.

But Greg, I thought you were secretly carrying a torch for Alice?

OT, nice transplant of that Meredith quote over here. Still want to know how Matthews chooses to drink what wines, though.  ;-)

Off on a slight tangent, looks like the Chinese were importing beer brewing technology from western Asia 5,000 years ago. Wonder in those days how the chips fell separating Chomskian problem solvers from mystery promoters (a framework which I first encountered during some lectures before he published this essay  and others back in the mid-'70s). And rather than painting things black and white, a truly interesting anthropological oenology dissertation would be on how those mysteries and their traditions still allowed promotion of better winemaking over the ensuing centuries. Doubt we'll be seeing such soon from Davis, however.  ;-)

As a footnote to further highlight the distinction that Matthews wants to make use of when he borrows Chomsky's dichotomy, this is a fuller version of how Chomsky put it one time (I like the addition of the last half sentence).

“Our ignorance can be divided into problems and mysteries. When we face a problem, we may not know its solution, but we have insight, increasing knowledge, and an inkling of what we are looking for. When we face a mystery, however, we can only stare in wonder and bewilderment, not knowing what an explanation would even look like.”

Chomsky, of course, would view a problem as anything that can be clarified and ultimately solved within the limits of our cognitive capabilities (limits which exist for any biological organism, unless, as he puts it, we are 'angels' without such limits). Mysteries are those things that fall beyond the limits of our cognition. He talks about these subjects within the context of humans having an innate 'science forming faculty' (SFF) as well as the language forming faculty that he first discussed most famously.

So even though many things are still unknown after more than 5,000 years of viticulture and viniculture, is terroir something that we have the smarts to breakdown and analyze, possibly using that SFF rather than some MBBF (marketeering & blogging bullshit faculty)? 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 1, 2016.

Kramer is understandably unhappy, as Matthews uses a quote from him that goes way mystical and just hands the game to Matthews. But he doesn't limit himself to the pompous bozos at WS, he goes after McNeil and all kinds of folks.  We all deserve it.

Matthews doesn't say there isn't an influence of land/climate/aspect on winemaking, but he points out that, as soon as someone suggests that it's possible nearly identical conditions could exist outside, oh, Burgundy, then the terroir thing has to be re-mystified, and it gets changed to avoid being able to pin it down.  He does agree there are ways to measure the taste of wine--read the book, then argue with it--and that preferences could be agreed upon for the sake of saying what's better or worse, up to a point.  But what he goes on to say is that Burgundy vignerons, all manner of critics, and French experts cannot tell the difference between wines produced on sacred '"terroir" and wines produced in other places and often prefer the ones made elsewhere. So, yeah, you love your Roumier, but if you didn't know what you were drinking, you'd be just as happy drinking something from Chehalem or Shea Vineyard, or Hyde, or Rosella's.  Unless, of course, what's actually making you happy is looking at that bottle's label. I think Matthews knows very well what he likes, and he probably likes wines that are expensive as much as anyone else does, but probably also likes nearly identical wines that are less expensive.  (He actually mentions drinking a wine with a style like a pre-15% ABV wine and remembering how good they can be.) Can you be fairly sure that DRC was made with the utmost care (and, I might add, carefully chosen barrel wood that sure ain't part of the terroir)?  Does that increase the chances it's really good?  Sure, but go back to the West Coast throw-down:  Our winning wine, with a fair bit of high end Burg in the mix, was either from Copain or somewhere in Oregon.  This happens alarmingly often to wines from the "best" terroir.  And then the Burgophile will come up with some BS excuse, like Durant blaming Roberson for not taking a shot last night. (Go, Dubs!)  Or Bordeaux saying that everyone knows California wines can't age, then getting their heads handed to them again when the Paris frolic was repeated with the same wines years later.  (Matthews agrees that the Paris tasting probably wasn't actually statistically significant, but his point is that the reason is because the wines are, in fact, very close in our ability to discern them--if France wants to call it a tie, that proves his point, too.)

You know what, I am going to have a glass from that $10 shiner right now.

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Reply by rckr1951, Jun 1, 2016.

Looks as though I'm going to have read these for my own wine knowledge - you all have my interest piqued on this.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 1, 2016.

The myth of terroir will not be going away soon, as today's email from North Berkeley Imports makes clear:

Distinguished, polished and precise, there’s nothing quite like Chassagne Montrachet.
 
 
It’s a truly special plot of Burgundian dirt, and Fabrice Bouard-Bonnefoy has taken his wife Carine's four generations of Chassagne Montrachet know-how and turned this small and under-the-radar domaine into something spectacular.
 
 
 
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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 1, 2016.

Yep, it's that "Burgundian dirt."  But at least they name it.  It's actually a steal at $67.25. 

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Reply by JonDerry, Jun 1, 2016.

All sounds like a breath of fresh air, though I feel like reading the book is optional as it all seems pretty well broken down above.

Also, that's a nice "new world" beats old world greatest hits Fox. Now about that Nebbiolo...

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 1, 2016.

Nebbiolo is a challenge to grow elsewhere, but that's because it's a challenge to grow anywhere, and it happens to have found a home in a place with very particular weather conditions.  That's problem number one.  It's a late ripener, so it has benefited by keeping the crop down to hasten ripening.  While other wines are now overripe, Piemonte has fewer bad (which were usually underripe) vintages than it used to (and true also for Bordeaux, but there's other issues there); but if things go too far with warming, Piemonte could be having too many warm years instead.  Nebbiolo just needs some very specific conditions; given California's diversity of soils and weather, I think there will be a place to grow it.  But sacred terroir?  I think those Burgundian PNs from Oregon work because smart folks (including French like the Drouhins) saw the similarity in weather and chose sites with good exposure and soils... and voila! Even they cannot tell which is which.

The book is worth reading if you want to actually understand the science of the plants and why what you hear in the wine press is so moronic.  Although Matthews addresses just a few canards (Big Berries Bad, High Yield/Low Quality, critical ripening period, vine balance, and terroir), getting the understanding of how little has been studied and how rarely the mythologists are really able to discern meaningful differences will change the way you view wine economics, marketing, buying, writing, snobbery and culture.  Clive Coates's self-defense becomes risible when you know how often this business of getting it wrong isn't in the "right way."  His handful of lucky guesses seem to constitute a refutation of his earlier modesty about  being "not a very good blind taster."  Nice try, Clive.

Read the comments on the Robin Goldstein refutation of Wine Spectator's "efforts to contact" claims; Anthony Taylor of Gabriel Meffre (winemakers in Gigondas) nails Parker for not tasting blind.  Why doesn't he taste blind?  Because even when he knows what 15 wines he will be tasting, the man who remembers every wine he ever drank cannot get them right,  cannot even tell merlot-dominant from cab-dominant wines. 

As far as I am concerned, Matthews's book is a call to really study what makes wine great so we can grow enough of it under the best conditions that we can all enjoy many different varieties/styles of it at a reasonable price.  Of course, if the real goal is to sell it for a ton of money and convince people they haven't lived until they have hard real Burgundy from hallowed terroir, a first growth from Bordeaux (BTW, not actually based on the land, you can buy land and add it to your first growth holdings), LaLaLas from Cote Rotie or at least La Chappele from Hermitage..

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 1, 2016.

"Even they cannot tell which is which."

Be careful with overgeneralizations from one or two unmonitored (by us and many others) and un-truly-analyzed tasting events. I've drunk with plenty of folks who would likely be able to make the distinction.

There will always be tastings where plenty of individuals get things wrong. But then also where a core of individuals get them right. I was in more than one blind tasting where famous TV wine snobs were asked to identify six CA vs six Burgundy whites and got them utterly reversed, while 4 of the people at the table (one worldwide Sommelier of the Year, one manager of the best French restaurant in Tokyo, one super retailer and one amateur) got 10~12 out of 12, even down to the winery (wines to be drunk were known ahead of time but they were served fully blind by individuals not in the tasting). Duplicated the experience for Bordeaux reds with very similar results even though everyone was trying to up their game. Separately I've known a few individuals (some internationally famous, others not) able to identify chateaux or grand cru vineyards when served a glass brought from the kitchen (that they had not visited beforehand). Whereas others at the table, of course, thought a Pommard was a St. Julien.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 1, 2016.

D, the "observed" incidences of doing blinds--not anecdotes of parties someone was at, but controlled tastings with actual reportage--suggest that, yeah, most of us can tell a PN from a Cab, but not much else.  And the "experts" rarely fare better when given a real test.  When wine mags do ratings, they supposedly do them blind, but they aren't really controlled well.  To do that would require actually posting some of the evidence in the form of video--notice how that doesn't happen?  It would also require that a ringer be thrown in.  I don't mean that they throw in a Pinot during a tasting of Bordeaux.  Rather, a few lower end bottles, a few from outside the ostensible tasting group by geography or price, be mixed in.  If you are tasting Pauillac from 2005, as a taster you know just about everything from that AOC is expensive,and you know it's supposed to be a good vintage, so you give everything a fairly high score as your baseline.  When you are doing a feature on Chile, you expect the reader to be looking for value, not confirmation of his huge expenditure, and you know they aren't the same "great" wines you just tasted last week, so you lower the starting point.  And the samples keep coming, the winery receives you favorably in Chile or Bordeaux, because everyone gets what they expect. But if you knew it was never going to be that simple--there would be a Chilean, a lower end but solid Haut Medoc, a couple different bottles of Napa or Alexander Valley tossed in, a couple from a vintage that wasn't the vintage of the decade/century/millenium--then you actually get a little honesty in the game. 

So a few people got 10 - 12 out of 12.  I would love to see the score cards, but keep in mind also that one test doesn't mean a thing.  At some event, you could have a few lucky people.  Matthews sources the literature and what we know is that Coates, Parker, and the lot are good at hyping, but not so good at tasting even when the deck is kind of loaded.  Science tells us that, if terroir exists, we should be able to measure it and find similar situations (climate, soil, exposure, lenght of day) that would bring things so close that our clumsy apparatus cannot tell the difference.  And we have:  The Drouhins found it.  More than a few Napa winemakers found it, mostly by luck. I'm pretty confident a lot of OT's winemaker friends found it and would win a "Que Syrah" tasting done under scientific conditions.  (By win, I mean the best palates could not tell if it was Hermitage or Halcon.)

That's not going to make collectors of DRC happy, it's not going to help the ad sales at WS, but it's going to help the average consumer.  Which is what Parker set out to do, and instead created a culture of rising prices and exclusivity that he now benefits from by putting on Executive Wine Seminars, palling around with Michel Chapoutier, and so on.  His income kept up with the rise in prices he set off, but most people's did not. 

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 1, 2016.

Not talking of anecdotes, Fox, but of directly, personally observed and participated-in experience. An anecdote for you, perhaps, but not for me and what I know of reality. And the personal example I used was very pertinent to the judgment of Willamette/Cote d'Or (or whatever it was or should be called) example referred to above. If desired I can detail the methodology employed.

Of course in my own personal blind tastings since then there's always at least one ringer. Always good for a laugh. Pommard often comes up as Bordeaux, with too many people, though that's only one example.

There are exceptional tasters out there, and there are people who understand the earth and environmental factors surrounding a site and how to make the best wine from it, even without Davis-sanctioned scientific studies. And there is a difference that at least some people can distinguish between laboratory supported or even tweaked wines in the New World, and others out of places like Burgundy, even if we don't yet know how to describe those differences in detail. Just as there are people who have problems differentiating in tastings, etc., etc. These I view as Chomskian 'problems', not 'mysteries'.

I'm certainly not dissing efforts by Davis alumnae and others in the professions they participate in or promote as they aim to solve those problems, far from it, but I also am going to take their positions and statements with (nearly) the same volume of salt they ask for when viewing those they attack. Without having read his book I think it's possible Matthews overstepped in making his points. Will look forward to reading it when I have a chance.

 

And it's nice to see that we can still generate some of the discussions of old on these tired boards when the right topic is proferred...

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Reply by GregT, Jun 2, 2016.

D - he didn't really overstep IMHO. But his book has really limited appeal - it's written specifically as a counterargument to a particular type of writing. Interesting approach to take.

One of his overarching points was that people talk about and repeat things as if they're facts but at the same time they ignore what they can see happening in the world. For example, if you were a member of a 4H club and you tried to grow a prize melon or pumpkin, what do you do? You pull almost all the fruit off the vine so your remaining fruit gets all the love.

But with grapes, that doesn't happen. See, with grapes, you pull off most of the fruit and then the remaining grapes get extra small! Then you can make concentrated wine. And that's the wonder of wine writing - basic botany is simply ignored.

Or the fact that the vines are grown in Kimmeridgian soil. Not a single person in the world can tell you why that matters but if you're in one of the modern wine certification courses, you gotta know that stuff! Does it affect the way a vine takes up nutrients? Nope. But you have to write about it because it's easier than figuring out what's in your glass.

As far as tasting blind - it's simply memory. If you're in a room full of grandmothers, you can recognize your own. But if you tried to describe a dozen of them, your descriptions would likely sound similar, much like tasting notes.

However, your brain creates mental images of tastes and flavors, just like it does with visual images. It's simply pattern recognition. The same thing that lets you distinguish Pinot Noir from Riesling is what lets you distinguish the Riesling from a particular vineyard in the Mosel from one in Pfalz. It has to do with your familiarity. I've been able to consistently distinguish between wine from Burgos and from Rioja Alavesa. But that's simply from familiarity. Some people can't distinguish Rioja from Ribera del Duero, or Tempranillo from Cab. But many people are much more astute - you were at Brian's where Mike Smith could identify wine from specific vineyards - he new them so well he could call them out cold.

It's a result of repeated exposure and paying attention.

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 2, 2016.

Absolutely about memory, something I thought of including in my above post(s), but they were already getting long and it's the middle of the work day here--which is why I'll break off now and come back later to lay out my views on the role of memory in this discussion. The best sommeliers and wine tasters I've known are blessed with exceedingly good memories, and plenty of experience to fill them.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 2, 2016.

Mike did that with his own wines, which he tastes every day.  I imagine he could do it with some others as well.  And I can imagine that GregT can do that with Riojas because he tastes a lot of them, does so frequently, and pays a lot of attention to them.  But there's a real limit to human perception. Note that GregT cannot do the same with those Rieslings (or doesn't claim to) and I've personally witnessed him get a wine so completely wrong--totally different part of France--and also more subtly wrong--Left Bank v. Right Bank, although it was Pape Clement, which is heavy on Merlot--that I will rely on him for Rioja advice only. ;-)

Anecdote, noun: a short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature

Or, one might say, "directly, personally observed and participated-in experience."  But not research, not science.  My own experience--I'm powerfully allergic to lavender, and others in my family as well--does not suggest a broader truth absent rigorous testing: We don't need to tear up all the lavender in France because it is poisonous.

There's a spread of abilities, and there's a serious training effect, but the point of the book's discussion of terroir is that 1) there needs to be a serious definition of terroir or it's just, um, religion (my exaggeration) and equally likely to be put to  nefarious, if more trivial, uses and 2) wines from  those places with unique terroir could not be discerned by the experts in blind tastings.  Keep in mind that the judges in each of the tastings knew there were wines from two places (Cal and Bordeaux, Cal and Burgundy in the Tasting of Paris; PN from Oregon and Burgundy, and similar tests), so it wasn't just "describe your grandmother."  It was, "identify a person  or a few people (if you want to game the test and insure the "right" result) you have seen frequently throughout your life in a small-ish crowd of people of the same age, race and gender."  Keep in mind that, as in line-ups of suspects, the probative value increases as they are more similar, because anyone could pick out the only Caucasian in an otherwise African American line-up, or the shortest guy... you get the point.  But the "experts" could not pick out which wines were even French! 

And let's talk about Parker's flop:  He's long been THE market maker for Bordeaux.  He had drunk those exact same wines shortly before the seminar.  He drinks those like I drink $15 Chianti, which is to say several times a week.  He spends a lot of time thinking about them, etc. 

Not saying there aren't differences in wines, not saying you cannot educate your palate, not saying there aren't more and less gifted tastes.  Nor is Matthews, at least not as the thesis of the book. What Matthews is saying, and I concur with, is that "terroir" is bogus, and that we could have a lot more good and great wine if we paid attention to how plants work, not the myths.  He isn't just going after the writers, although as hands-off fools and talking heads, they tend to be bigger asses, he's also going after the marketers (and a lot of winemakers really are marketers themselves, by prior experience leading to their ownership of wineries or current necessity/desire to make money in wine) who put this stuff on their back labels and shelf talkers, and even practice what is probably bad agronomy.  (Dropping crop might be hurting Napa wines by speeding up the ripening--ever think of that?  He has, and he has data to show the connection. Back when ripening was an issue in Bordeaux, that made sense, although they weren't doing it.  In California, probably completely unnecessary.  Strangely enough, these "non-interventionists" in the winery might do better at making lower ETOH wines if they intervened less in the field. But it's not a good story if "rarity" or "scarcity" is your pitch.) 

Matthews also makes a point using a short aside about Steiner and biodynamics, although I could see a good long article or short book if it wasn't such an easy target.  Essentially, what he says is that Steiner introduced a means of "knowledge" based on the intuitions of an individual (which, of course, was Steiner, who didn't actually get his hands dirty with plants).  Not the old way of untangling God's mysterious plan, which at least suggested that something external to our mind followed some purposeful path, (He also gives a short course on teleology in the book--it's really a great read if you see the themes, a wine-lover's version of Sagan's "Demon Haunted World." Neither he nor I would suggest a return to that, but somehow after comparing Steiner to old-time religion, I'm at least voting for the Olympian gods over biodynamics.) In short, the point is to not take myths at face value, and to question those (I like GregT's example above) that go against everything we know about plant physiology. 

I'll grant you the gifted tasters, but terroir?  First they need to show us what they mean. 

Note to OP, who seems to have disappeared:  Buy the book--you will find it is shorter than my responses, as Matthews is very concise. 

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Reply by JonDerry, Jun 2, 2016.

Mike Smith's tasting at Brian's for the Syrah fest was definitely something I hadn't really seen before. Pro palate and experience there.

Can see how it comes down to memory/experience then maybe an inteligence/ X factor also.

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Reply by rckr1951, Jun 2, 2016.

Another aside to this that may be interesting:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0097615

I've ordered the book so I've no real opinion - but I have my own thoughts.

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