There is a French term know as Terroir that is used to denote the special characteristics that climate, soil, topography, and other natural elements bestow upon things like coffee, tea and of course wine.
It can loosely be translated as meaning “a sense of place,” and is a way of describing the unique aspects of a particular place that influences the taste of the products that come from there.
With respect to French wine it is the basis of their Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) that has been the model for the appellation and wine laws around the world. For example, in the USA the designation AVA, or American Viticultural Area denotes boundary specifics regarding the origin of the grapes in a wine, and in Canada we use Vintners’ Quality Alliance, or VQA to confirm the authenticity of origin.
At the core of this assumption is that the land where the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality to the wine that is specific to that region.
Much has, and continues to be said about the importance of matching the “correct” wine with food, but I have not personally come across anything that speaks directly to choosing a wine to compliment your physical surroundings, and the activities you may be engaged in.
Therefore if we are prepared to accept the notion that our physical surroundings, and what we may be doing at the time can influence what we taste in a wine, it would be necessary to expand the definition of Terroir or “a sense of place,” to include both the location and what we may be otherwise up to when drinking it.
Far fetched? Perhaps, and while I’m not suggesting that by opening a bottle of wine in your garage it will miraculously take on the taste of oily rags and old bicycle tires, but the effect that your physical surroundings and what you are doing at the time can have on you psychologically will, in some instances, influence what you taste.
For example, if you are having an intense business meeting in a noisy, bustling restaurant, it probably doesn’t make a great deal of sense to order a vintage wine that has reached it’s peak in terms of “drinkability,” because given the circumstances and your surroundings, you are not likely going to be in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate what that wine has to offer.Serve the same wine during a leisurely dinner in more intimate surroundings without all of the distractions, and I can guarantee that you will get far more out of it, particularly with regards to taste.
Our cabin is buried deep within north western Canada’s boreal forest and other than me, my wife and our two Alaskan Malamutes, the only other inhabitants are the local wildlife, which is not surprising given that we have the only pieced of deeded property within a 300,000-acre expanse of Crown Land.
While camp activities vary somewhat from day to day, the one relative constant is that we enjoy sipping on a glass of wine either before and/or with dinner on most days.
When planning our very first trip I was concerned about the weight and volume of all the gear that we would need to set up the cabin. Because everything must be hauled in either by boat or float plane, I was not enamoured with the prospect of having to make a great many boat trips, or in the alternative going to the expense of chartering a plane.
This of course included our wine, so to cut down on the weight, we brought in several tetra packs of an Australian wine that while not horrible, did not improve my overall opinion of wine that comes in a box.
Now that our equipment was at the cabin, and because the majority of it would be remaining there, I no longer had the same restrictions regarding weight and volume, and could bring in pretty much whatever I wanted without worrying about the amount and/or type of container it was in.
But the challenge now was - what wines to choose?
While I planned to select wines that would compliment our menu, which for the most part is made up of pretty basic camp fare - that was not going to be my only consideration. Before choosing, I gave some serious thought to both what we would likely be doing, and the physical setting where we would be enjoying our wine.
It’s always very quiet in and around the cabin, and we spend most of our time fishing, reading, walking along our beach and just otherwise kicking back and relaxing in an idyllic, pristine wilderness setting.
Most of the sounds at the cabin not produced by Mother Nature herself are of our own making, and I was bound and bent that one of those sounds was going to be the squeak and pop of a cork as it was removed from the bottle, rather than the metallic crack of a screw top, or the dull zipping sound that is produced when removing the paper thin aluminium tab from one of those God awful wine boxes.
Now I don’t want you to consider this as an indictment against the use of screw tops or aluminium tabs on wine containers - that debate is better left to those who are far better qualified than me to make those determinations - but the squeak and pop of a real cork was simply going to be more in harmony with our natural surroundings.
At the end of the day we brought along a wide selection of types and styles of wines.
Big chewy reds for cooler days that matched up very well with settling in by the fire with a good book and grilled steaks. Crisp dry Rieslings and full bodied Viogniers bursting with tropical fruit overtones that enhanced our blueberry picking, smoked chicken breasts and fresh, pan fried Walleye. Dry, floral Rosé’s that were at home with most things on the menu, and any number of activities on a hot lazy summer day, and Chianti’s that married well with our pasta dishes, or when walking along the beach with the dogs.
So the next time you plan on drinking some wine at your cabin, before making your choice, try thinking outside of the box – pun intended - and factor in your physical surroundings along with the activities you will be engaged in, because as we have come to realize, it’s not all that easy to find a wine that goes well with scratching your dog behind the ear, fresh caught fish and the delicate, subtle aroma of spruce trees.
Special thanks to Daun Bailey at Barrel Select Wines for making many of the wines we enjoyed while in camp available to us. You can check out her selection of fine wines by contacting Daun at www.barrelselect.com