Soil and wine: a seminar with Pedro ParraBy Simone Madden-Grey
Leading Chilean winemaker Pedro Parra is convinced that it is possible to taste the impact of soil when blind tasting wines, as he argued in a recent speech in Hong Kong.
The role of soil in relation to different characteristics present in wine together with the use of the word minerality as a wine descriptor are topics of much discussion in the wine industry. Articles such as the recent drinks business review of a study negating soil based minerality in wine, as well as the excellent podcast from the Guild of Sommeliers debating the topic along with Jamie Goode’s presentation and article on terroir and minerality are just some of the materials contributing to this discussion.
Well-known Chilean winemaker and terroir consultant Pedro Parra recently shared his thoughts on the relationship between wine and terroir, and in particular soil, in a seminar presented by Bee Drinks Global and Continental Wines Ltd at the Gaucho restaurant in Central, Hong Kong.
After more than a decade of studying the relationship between soil and wine both in his home country Chile and internationally, Parra is convinced that it is possible to discern different soil types when blind tasting wines. In addition to extensive personal research, which includes over 20,000 different soil investigations in vineyards around the world, he holds a Masters degree in Precision Agriculture from Montpellier and a Ph.D (terroir) from the Institut National Agronomique de Paris Grignon.
Furthering his exploration of the relationship between soil type and wine Parra founded the Aristos project in 2003 with Francois Massoc and Louis Michel Liger Belair. The objective of this project is to find the best sites for Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Later, in 2008, he created Clos de Fous and the first commercial vintage was 2010. With Clos de Fous the focus is on the extremes of terroir offered in Chile by harnessing the opportunities provided by altitude, coastal influences and southerly latitudes. Not being one to sit still and in addition to working with his clients around the world, Parra also works in Argentina on the terroir specialist project Altos Las Hormigas with Alberto Antonini, Antonio Morescalchi, Attilio Pagli and Carlos Vazquez.
It is Parra’s argument that soil type influences the texture of the final wine and that with practise it is possible to identify soil type in a blind tasting. Broadly speaking, for example, Parra postulates that granite “brings a nervous tension to the wine” and that wines grown in granite soil show the bulk of their flavour on the front of the palate or, as he puts it, like a “Mike Tyson punch (of flavour) on the front of the mouth”. He continues further by contrasting this with vines grown in predominantly limestone soil; these wines he describes as long and linear in structure whereas wines produced from grapes grown in schist are big wines, more horizontal in structure and showing an “iron sensation” alongside powerful tannins.
Regardless of your view on the impact soil has on the characteristics of a wine, the event provided much thought provoking material as demonstrated by the extensive question and answer session at the conclusion of the seminar. Parra’s approach to the seminar is well suited to this somewhat controversial topic; he takes questions and comments in his stride, sharing his extensive experience and his unwavering belief in the effect soil type has on wine, all the while being a highly engaging and entertaining speaker.
Another thing this seminar offered with respect to how wine is tasted is a refreshing review of the way in which words are used to describe wines as well as how one might taste and evaluate the texture and structure of wine. This type of seminar has been delivered personally by Parra around the world and there are a number of people who, under his tutelage, correctly identified the soil types of the majority of wines tasted blind in the seminar – quite something to think about and no doubt the starting point for many a discussion!
1. G.D. Jajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2010, Piedmont, Italy
2. Girolamo Russo San Lorenzo Etna Rosso 2012, Sicily, Italy
3. Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Appellation Gualtallary 2013, Mendoza, Argentina
4. Clos des Fous Pucalan Arenaria Pinot noir 2012, Aconcagua, Chile
5. Commando G Rumbo Al Norte 2012, Gredos, Spain
6. Descendientes de J. Palacios Villa de Corullon 2012, Bierzo, Spain
7. Vigneti di Campomaggio Chianti Classico 2012, Tuscany, Italy
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