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Vertical Tasting

I was consolidating pallets in the cellar the other week when I came across 12 cases of my first vintage, the 06, that weren’t supposed to be there. I thought I had only museum stock left. Naturally, I opened a bottle. I was very pleased with it. So I got an empty box, put a bottle of the 06 in it and arranged beside it one each of my best vintages. I took another sip of the 06.

                                 I surveyed all that I had wrought. And, behold, it was very good.

So, in quest of le gout du terroir, I’ve decided to put together a few ‘Vertical’ cases. The cost will be $240 per half (X6) case.

Vertical Tasting – in contradistinction to Horizontal Tasting if you happen to be lying down – means same varietal, same vineyard, different years. It gives you the chance to see common features (imparted by the terroir, as the French have been saying since they came up with the concept in the 1920s) while simultaneously appreciating how each vintage is distinctive. It also shows how the wines evolve in the bottle, getting more complex and nuanced, and also less tannic, as they age.

You knew all that, didn’t you? And terroir, you know about that too? Ah, terroir, ow I adore the orotund French rs. You can roll the word your mouth like – case in point, like a glass of 06. Let’s not get pedantic about what it actually means. Sounds good, that’s the main thing. A signature style brought forth by the mystical union of the minerals in the soil and the winemaker’s art, how about that?

It is a truism that every vineyard and the wine it produces are unique. But do I really believe you can taste in a wine the inherent qualities of the soil? Perhaps even the culture and the passion of those who made it? When I use it at all I prefer to confine the word terroir to a collective term for the environmental givens: rainfall, temperature, hours of sunlight, soil chemistry, drainage, the geographical location and slope and aspect of the vineyard. I draw a distinction between natural factors and things like canopy management, yield reduction, spray regimes and above all winemaking practices which are under my control. But strictly speaking a lot of what one tends to think of as immutable components of terroir can actually be modified.

When I started the site of my vineyard was a Wellington-sucking swamp. But the location was terrific. It took something over 40 tonnes of dolomite and a lot of earth-moving to make it fit to grow vines. I have put in drip irrigation to cope with long dry summers. If I could afford it, I’d install frost protection fans. In short, I have seriously mucked around with my terroir. And I take full responsibility.

You’ve had The Bible; this is James May: terroir (French) = (English) cobblers.