Four little known ways in which Mezcal is influenced by terroir.
Although there is no scientific research that formally connects agave’s flavours and its terroir yet, it’s impossible to ignore its influence when you sip mezcal. If grapes, which are harvested every year, transfer an expression of their terroir into the wine, then the same could be argued about agave, which matures in 5 to 30 years and, during that time, they soak minerals, nutrients, and “essences” from the place where they have grown.
We, @Agavache, believe that every mezcal (generic term to refer any agave spirit) is unique and different; and terroir is a strong influence that defines its characteristics.
Terroir is a french term that literally translated means earth, or soil. This concept means that a local food product and its peculiarities can be influenced by the natural environment and human activities around the site where the raw material grew. Natural factors include: climate, soil, terrain, botanical diversity, and fauna. And «human activities» would be considered as the culture and tradition involved in the production process.
In the world of wine, terroir is defined as “representing a sense of place in the flavour” and has been widely accepted for a long time. Recently, this concept has been applied to other foods such as coffee, chocolate, olive oil, cheese, meat, and even to fruit and vegetables; but there are arguments about whether it applies to distilled spirits. Critics argue that any characteristics related to where the raw material originated will be distilled out. However, Wigle Whiskey developed a project that disputes this theory.
Last year, in 2019, Wigle launched the “Terroir Rye Series”; three rye whiskeys made with grain from three distinct rye-growing regions. They were produced the same way and similar barrels were used for ageing. Throughout the experiment, at multiple points, samples were sent off for chemical analysis by gas chromatography. Results from that GC analysis suggest that some flavour contributors are region specific. Additionally, a blind tasting of the whiskies was carried out and tasters were able to identify noticeable differences between the different regions.
The Wiggle project results appeared in the article “Can There Be Terroir in Spirits?” by Kara Newman for Wine Enthusiast magazine. The author suggested that the raw material is just one potential way to impart terroir and that there are another four ways in the production process to acquire it and reflect it:
- Terroir from yeast: wild yeast and other organisms capture the regional flavours.
- Terroir from flavourings: locally sourced botanicals or other ingredients should be considered, such as gusano de maguey.
- Terroir from production: typical regional practices preserve the character profile of the beverage.
- Terroir from ageing: barrel staves are inoculated with micro-organisms which can add flavours in addition to the ones from the natural ageing process.
In accordance with the possible ways where terroir might intervene in distilled beverages, if we look over them, we will find that traditional mezcal is a product highly susceptible to terroir influence.
Terroir is expressed by products with authenticity and recognition, due to the history of their region, as well as their inherited knowledge and cultural diversity. These products create value and construct viable and sustainable development. Traditional mezcales have these characteristics and we as consumers can feel the strong connection between the spirit and the “essence” of Mexico.
BOWEN, Sara (2015), Divine Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal and the politics of production, California, USA: University of California Press.
JANZEN, Emma (2017), Mezcal: The history, craft & cocktails of the world’s ultimate artisanal spirit, Minneapolis, USA: Quarto Publishing Group.
NEWMAN, Kara (2019, Octubre, 21). Can there be terroir in spirits?, Wine Magazine. Recuperado de: https://www.winemag.com/2019/10/21/can-there-be-terroir-in-spirits/
ØSTERLIE Marianee, Trude Wicklund (2018) Food, nutrition and health in Norway, ScienceDirect. Recuperado de: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/terroir
Wigle whiskey, The Terroir Rye Project 2015-2018: https://wiglewhiskey.com/shop/bottles/whiskey/terroir-rye