The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2016

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20  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2016 T erroir expert Pedro Parra refers to what is most often described as minerality in wine as "electricity." In late September, Parra presented a morning-long tasting designed to reveal the way he works and how he identifies the influence of various terroirs, specifically soil types, on the expression of minerality in wine. Parra's work informs winegrowing practices around the world, but no more so than in Mendoza, Argentina, where his hunt for limestone has resulted in the Malbec wines produced by Altos Las Hormigas that speak of place in a way that Malbec rarely does. "Black fruit just isn't sexy," said Parra, who points to overwatering as the primarily culprit resulting in a pedestrian expression. For high-quality mineral wines he looks to stony soil types—lime- stone, granite, schist, gravels and basalt—and the 100 or more fac- tors that inform them: "We want the roots to feed on stone." In characterizing soil types, he points to stony soils with "too much bone" that ultimately produce tannic wines, and friable soils with "too much flesh" wherein wines lose their vitality. He searches for the right ratio of flesh to bone in the terroir and views the adapta- tion of vine vigor in an attempt to improve wine quality as a practice that tends to erase differences rather than express them. "If we want wines with electricity, we've got to look for what's driving vigor and to teach viticul- turists how to manage different soil types," he said. Parra's blind tasting, where variety played second fiddle to terroir expression, was unlike anything most tasters in the room had ever experienced. He asked his audience to identify the terroir of nine wines selected for demonstrating and communicating their soil types on the palate, grape variety and other factors notwithstanding. Four wines, grown on limestone, he describes as having "shocky tannins" and reading on the mid-palate and front of the tongue—M. Marengo 2011 Barolo La Morra; Causse des Ons 2011 Plateau Malbec, Cahors; Altos Las Hormigas 2014 Malbec Reserve, Valle de Uco, Mendoza; and Altos Las Hormigas 2014 Paraje Altamira Malbec, Mendoza. "Granite soils have some fertility, and they can have high vigor," said Parra as he described two wines grown on granite—a Tumba del Rey Moro 2013 Comando G, Castilla y León and his own Imaginador 2015, a Cinsault from the Itata Valley in Chile, which were both felt on the front of the tongue with elevated levels of acidity. An Algueira Pizarra 2012 DOC Mencía, Ribera Sacra, Galicia, from a nearly vertical site described as "bony" iron-clay silty schist with very shallow soils, demon- strated schist that is akin to "a drill in the cheek and a blast of minerality." For Parra and for this taster, mineral expression in wines grown on stony basalt read as dry and on the front of the palate. He poured a Chapter 24 2015 The Fire Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity Hills. Winemaker Mark Tarlov was present during the tasting, a sign that he's on board with Parra's philosophy. Parra looked to Mt. Etna and the Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2013 Etna Rosso, Caldera Sottana for the expres- sion of basalt, with a unique layer of volcanic ash known as rhyolitic tuff, that reads drier and more tannic than any of the other soils. A common thread that ran through most of the soil examples was the presence of clay. "Electricity [mineral- ity] is affected by clay. If there's low electricity in the soil, we dig to find out why." He cited sandy, silty soils as having "low electricity" and offered a specific example of a survey of the variations in "electro connectivity" in the clay soils of a Benziger site on the Sonoma Coast. SAN FRAN INSIDER Parra demonstrates his comparison of "flesh," or friable soils, to "bone," or stony soils. Tasting Terroir PEDRO PARRA FINDS SHOCKING "ELECTRICITY" IN WINESS story and photos by Deborah Parker Wong Pedro Parra's blind tasting revealed differences in the expression of "electricity" in wines grown on various soil types.

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