Wine has its chattering classes too, and for some time now its pet subject has been something called terroir. Like entrepreneur or mise en place, terroir is a French loanword that requires a whole English sentence to convey the meaning. Narrowly construed, it’s the natural conditions prevailing in a particular spot that distinguish the wine of that place. Terroir has been called the “whereness’’ of wine. It might be more correct to say that terroir, when it occurs, is just a place ventriloquizing a grape.
Winemakers want to claim terroir for their properties. But in the great majority of cases, they’re just blowing smoke since authentic terroir isn’t all that common. To put the problem in human terms, while we all have character, few of us are characters. This, in part, is why a recent tasting of wines from Italy’s Campania region proved so startling - and rewarding. It seems that here terroir isn’t some marketing wheeze, it’s a gust of wind that blows your hat clear off and leaves you wondering, bareheaded, what just happened.