When choosing wine, we generally start by considering the price, the origin, the production method (is it sustainable?), and the occasion. What we tend not to consider as often is the weather, climate, and soil in which the wine was produced. This begs the question: does soil, indeed, affect a wine’s flavor?
The type of soil in which grapes grow is quickly becoming one of the most important deciding factors for choosing a type of wine. While this idea does date back to the Middle Ages, it has more recently become a popular consideration.
How does the soil affect wine flavor?
It was originally thought that because of photosynthesis, and the fact that the vine takes up water from the soil, this must cause differentiation in flavor as the soil may contain varying levels of different minerals. However, this was not completely proven to be true as there has been no definite, scientific justification.
This does not mean that the soil does not play a relevant role in the flavors that develop in grapes used to produce wine. In fact, the soil plays a role in how the roots take up water which influences the swelling and ripening of the grapes. Of the 14 known elements that are essential for the growth of the vine, most of them are found in the ground.
Some of these elements may be present in the final wine, although the amounts are quite minuscule and will not be easily tasted. This will, however, affect how the flavors are perceived.
Invisible Factors the affect wine flavor
Some factors that are known to affect the flavor of wine tend to be overlooked as they are seemingly invisible. Plenty of research has been conducted into microbiology and how it affects the vineyard and ultimately the wines. New technologies have enabled scientists to see a distinction in the bacterial and fungal communities that are present within the soil.
It is known that certain organisms can cause a change in grapes, such as the Botrytis mold that causes grapes to turn into partial raisins that are used for sweet wines, and types of yeast that are known to guide the fermentation of grapes as well as affect flavor.
However, it is still not 100% clear if these microorganisms definitely affect flavor in the wine. Since these factors are seemingly invisible, you won’t hear much about them at most wine tastings.
The just of it
Since vineyard soil is routinely altered through the artificial processes of gouging, fertilizing and irrigation, the theory of soil affecting flavor is not very sturdy. Since the scientific backing is not too solid, we cannot make any grand assumptions about the soil affecting wine flavor.
Although, studies have shown that variations can occur even within a single vineyard. It seems as though for now the effect of soil will remain a concept that makes for appealing journalism and romantic marketing.