In the history of specialist literature wine has often been discussed in connection with its geogra‑ phic origins. The connection between the two was already recognised by the Egyptian and Mesopota‑ mian civilisations in the second and third millennia BC. Thus, for example, the king of the Mari, in 2000 BP, had already come to grips with the relationship between the quality and provenance of the wine, and moreover, commented on the change in quality when blending wines from two different places, “My Lord is drinking the wine he received… They have commissioned four vats of it, and had it blended with the wine of Samum, which is of a lesser quality than the wine you drink, Sir…”. (Ascalone, 2008).
Where, though, does a statement such as, “This wine tastes of the terroir – it definitely has the stamp of the terroir on it!” come from? Designation of origin and regional demarcation as an acknowledged criterion for wine quality has enjoyed a long tradition ever since classical Greek and Roman times. We have an example of this from Pliny, who wrote, “The Falernum and the Caecubum are the oldest wines” (Fregoni et al., 2003).
Quite possibly, the most controversial topic in the world of wine is the use of the term, “terroir”. Aside from that, the definition of the term is dependent upon various ideas and opinions, which come from different professions and other areas of activity, such as viniculture, cellar technology, geosciences, journalism, gastronomy, and from lay people. All these opinions are derived from essentially different background knowledge. First of all, therefore, we have to find a precise definition for the concept of “terroir”. In many dictionaries the word “terroir” is translated as “soil”. Even when one looks up the word in a French dictionary – and you would think that this would bring us closer to a definition – the correct answer is not forthcoming. Thus, in the Larousse French‑ English dictionary, there are two entries in English against the French word “terroir”: region; and country, as opposed to the city. On closer inspection, the French themselves use “terroir” in complex ways and on a number of different levels that are much more metaphysical than can be expressed by the words “ground” or “soil”. The concept of “terroir” is not confined merely to denoting the (bare) earth and soil as a chemical or physical phenomenon, which the French normally call “la terre”, but rather includes its agricultural quality and suitability, as recognised by Diderot in his Encyclopédie, “Terroir, s. m. (Agricult.) terrain, or a piece of land designated according to its suitability in terms of quality.” Both “territoire” (from the popular Latin word “terratorium”, or territory), which is the extent of land under the jurisdiction of a ruler, State, or city, and “terroir” come from the same Latin root word “terra”, meaning “earth”, “land”, or “region”. “Terroir” does not simply mean “soil”, or “goût de terroir” [“taste, or tang, of the soil”], as illustrations in the 2009 supplementary edition of Larousse confirm. This is discussed in detail in Vaudour (2003).