Erik Neilson on January 18, 2017 1 Comment There are a number of unique factors that can influence the overall character and structure of a wine. Oak barrels, for example, can lend a handful of unique qualities to wine when utilized during the aging process, and techniques like whole-cluster fermentation can create wines that are entirely different from what one might expect. No element matters quite as much as the grapes being utilized, however, and it’s not just the specific variety, either. More often than not, the soil in which the grapes used to make wine are grown exhibits characteristics that make a bottle of wine what it is. A great deal of different types of soil exist in the wine world, some of which are better for certain styles of wine than others. White grapes that are grown in shale type soil tend to showcase high levels of minerality, for example, which is why so many “island-grown” whites feature whispers of the sea upon every sip. Some soils are known throughout the world as being the most ideal for growing wine grapes, and the bottles these grapes end up producing are reflective of this quality in their price tag. So, just where are the best soils in the world for growing wine grapes found? Here are a handful of places to look, all of which are known for producing some of the finest wines available. Burgundy, France The Burgundy region of France is well-known when it comes to the quality of its wine. Bottles of Burgundy wine can fetch extremely high prices, with collectors items often stretching into the thousands of dollars. This has plenty to do with the fact that some of the best winemakers in the world are working in Burgundy, but the quality of the soil they’re working with certainly affects the end product. Burgundy shares similar soil with the Loire Valley and Champagne region, where limestone clay that is extremely rich with nutrients is center-stage. The vineyards in and around Burgundy that produce the highest-quality wines are those where the soil becomes an interesting mix of clay, limestone and silica. The resulting soil, referred to as silex, is one of the most nutrient-rich mixtures a winemaker could ever ask for, and to say that it lends characteristics to the wine it produces would be a massive understatement. The soil in Burgundy is so important that it was once thought Pinot Noir could only be produced in this region. While time has proved this notion to be incorrect, its initial reasoning stands strong to this day — the soil in Burgundy is irreplaceable. Mendoza, Argentina Argentinian wine is loved the world over for more reasons than it would be possible to ever count. Depending upon what one truly loves about wine from Mendoza, it could well be the soil that is responsible. Argentinian soil is interesting enough across the board, typically consisting of sand, schist, alluvial deposits and granite. What makes Mendoza so unique, however, is its altitude. The lowest elevation these grapes will ever see is 2,500 ft. in the Andes foothills. There are few vineyards in Europe that can claim such elevation, and the amount of sunshine it provides the grapes is what gives them their characteristic spiciness. In Mendoza, the air is dry, the nights are cool and the sun shines prominently. The result? An exceptionally long growing season that produces rich, full-bodied wines such as Bonarda. Many wine enthusiasts drink Mendoza wines specifically because they are supposed to be loaded with antioxidants such as resveratrol, which are present due to the fact that the grapes stay on the vine for long periods of time. Health benefits aside, the flavors and aromas that come from Mendoza soil are reason enough to check out these unique, boisterous wines. Sicily, Italy For many years, the island of Sicily got somewhat of a bad rap in the wine world. Many of the grapes grown in Sicily were considered to be “difficult” and subservient to those grown in other parts of the country. Sicilian wine was thought to be primarily for drinking quickly, and in large quantities — that is, until the modern revolution of Sicilian winemakers stepped up and made wines from the island a sought-after commodity. Many of the best Sicilian wines get by on their intense, racy minerality. Why? Sicily’s soil is volcanic to say the very least, and there are very few regions where rocky minerality comes through quite as prominently as on this island. Great Sicilian wine is lively and bounces off the tongue, providing a sturdy backbone for the fruity reds and oceanic whites produced there. While many of the best Sicilian wines can carry a heavy price tag, there are countless middle-ground options that showcase the area’s soil without breaking the bank. Tuscany, Italy Staying in Italy, it would be irresponsible to not mention Tuscany when talking about great wine soils. Tuscany is unique in that it is actually home to a number of different types of soil. Take Chianti, for example, which is characterized by rocky soils that produce excellent Sangiovese wine — the same can be said for Montalcino. Vernaccia grows quite well in the higher altitude areas of Tuscany, and below that sits the makeup of Super Tuscan wine, which benefits from soil comprised of sand and clay. Tuscany is certainly one of the more celebrated wine regions in Italy, and much of this has to do with the diversity of the wines produced in such a small area. As one might suspect, this has just as much to do with the soil as it does the varieties of grapes being grown and utilized. As you can see, soil is certainly not an afterthought when it comes to wine production. Rather, it plays an integral role in the finished product, especially when its strengths are played up by the winemaker. The best way to taste the “terroir” of soil is to taste the same grape grown in different parts of the world — start with some of the regions mentioned above, and you can’t go wrong.