Tearing Down Terroir 

Regional differences in wine are giving ground to globalized tastes.

A winemaker who began growing grapes in the South Bay long before it was fashionable recently bent my ear about the insignificance of terroir in the context of modern American winemaking. Terroir, the influence of geography on a wine's distinctive qualities and character, gets a lot of ink in certain magazines. But the grapes used to make a particular wine are often sourced from hundreds or even thousands of miles away from where the wine is made and bottled, and producers the world over seem increasingly inclined to replicate the high-alcohol ripeness that tickles the taste buds of Robert Parker and other prominent critics. Thus, the concept that wines of a certain region have a certain flavor has been reduced to just that: a concept.

The trends rendering terroir meaningless haven't necessarily impacted every wine region, the veteran vintner allowed. Local pride over the techniques and flavors associated with certain appellations is alive and thriving, we hope, in places both foreign and domestic. Inspired by such optimism, for this week's tasting I picked Spanish reds from the storied Aragon region — specifically wines made from the Garnacha, or Grenache, grape that is Spain's most abundant. Delicious values all, but — qué sorpresa! — they all tasted big, Californian, and thoroughly Parkerized.

The biggest wine of our tasting was the Barker ($4.99), a 2003 Garnacha from a producer called Sideshow hailing from Calatayud. In a stunning Wineau first, our token winemaker and I both chose the Barker as our favorite; we loved its incredibly complex aroma — herbal, with just a hint of sweat and leather. Its taste was hearty, rich, and deep, and its aftertaste helped me understand why aftertaste matters. The Barker wasn't so heavy that it would overpower food, but it was great on its own — a perfect party wine.

In the "nothing wrong with it" category was the 2005 Tienen Duende Garnacha ($6.99) from Campo de Borja. This one boasted rich flavors of toast and leather and a subtle smoky aroma. My verdict: More style than substance. Our token winemaker thought it might improve with age.

The cherry on top of our tasting — literally — was the 2005 Borsao ($5.99), also from Campo de Borja. A blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo, the Borsao just oozed cherries, reminding me of the Cherries Jubilee I enjoyed on Christmas Eve. Another taster thought of Jolly Ranchers, and there was a definite sweetness here, along with a delicate, floral aroma. A local wineseller who has never steered me wrong calls the Borsao a great value and says to drink it cool and young — or try it in sangria.

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