Massachusetts wine merchant Gordon Alexander has worked with fine wine for more than three decades, and in 2018, he launched Terroir Wines with business partner Sheri Carl. Aptly named, the company is “dedicated to the principle that place matters.” Together, they source and import wines from around the world, seeking small-production winemakers who cherish their land, and honor the concept of terroir.
Of French origin, the term terroir is deeply rooted in a reverence for both the literal and figurative sense of place. It is the convergence of the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, with the almost religious belief in the characteristic taste, aroma, and nuance imparted to a wine from its environment. In essence, C’est le goût de terroir.
Last November, I met Gordon at Gloucester’s Savour Wine & Cheese, and had the good fortune to talk about soul when it comes to wine. Our conversation danced with the concept of terroir as it relates to truth and intention in winemaking.
Terroir Wines has a small and growing distribution presence on the North Shore. As we settle into a more contemplative state on the fringes of hibernation, what better companions than a selection of four red gems, ours for the musing on why place matters.
+ 2018 Carol Shelton Zinfandel, Mendocino, California $22
Carol Shelton, a passionate winemaker in California, has been “mastering the Zen of Zinfandel since 1978.” The first producer in Terroir Wine’s portfolio, “she continues to remain the benchmark for integrity in her winemaking,” says Alexander. “She was also first in her class at UC Davis—the first to graduate women. Her Wild Thing Zinfandel, from an organic vineyard in Mendocino, has beautiful, spicy berry fruit, lively acidity to keep it refreshing, and “an intelligent use of oak.”
Leary’s Fine Wines and Spirits, Newburyport 202 Merrimac St., 978-462-4451; Lela’s Variety, Topsfield, 51 Main St., 978-561-1877; Savour Wine & Cheese, Gloucester, 76 Prospect St., 978-282-1455
+ 2016 Château Benitey Merlot and Cabernet Franc, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux, France $35
The river Gironde sinews through the region of Bordeaux in Southwest France and is joined by the river Dordogne. To simplify, south of the Dordogne is considered the Left Bank, where Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, due to the gravelly soil. North of the Dordogne and Gironde is considered the Right Bank, where Merlot holds court because of its love of clay. Cabernet Franc plays matchmaker to either dominant grape, and grows throughout Bordeaux along with Petit Verdot and Malbec. We speak of power and muscle from the Left Bank, and softer, more supple styles from the Right Bank, as is the case with this 2016 Chateau Benitey. Merlot makes up most of the blend, with a hint of structure from a touch of Cabernet Franc. “An absolutely classic Saint-Émilion! It’s lush, round, and plummy, with a hint of chocolate, and just a touch of that Bordelaise chalkiness.”
Coastal Greengrocer, Ipswich, 51 Market St., 978-356-8500; Community Package Store, South Hamilton, 45 Bay Rd., 978-468-1386; Savour Wine & Cheese, Gloucester, 76 Prospect St., 978-282-1455
+ 2017 Michael Shaps Petit Verdot, Virginia, USA $30
A Virginia native, Michael Shaps studied winemaking in Burgundy in the 1990s before returning to the States to start Michael Shaps Wine Works. He also owns a négociant winery in Burgundy, Maison Shaps, working with local growers. “Michael is a great guy with a great story, and a truly French perspective on making American wine. And it’s hard to get more American than vineyards just down the road from Thomas Jefferson’s. His Petit Verdot is lush and complex with notes of blueberry, cocoa, and cherry compote, yet still taut with just enough tension to carry the weight.”
Leary’s Fine Wines and Spirits, Newburyport, 202 Merrimac St., 978-462-4451; Savour Wine & Cheese, Gloucester, 76 Prospect St., 978-282-1455
+ 2019 Shilda Winery Saperavi, Kakheti, Georgia $14
A recent partnership with Massachusetts-based, Georgian importer Kosta Chernikov, has brought the purity of Eastern Europe to the portfolio of Terroir Wines. Shilda’s Saperavi is a bright, juicy, quenching, and quaffable expression of a red varietal indigenous to Georgia. “This wine is crafted to show off the purity of the grape rather than the winemaker’s influence. It is fermented in stainless steel, bottled quickly, and with minimal tank aging. Think of it as the Beaujolais-analog for Georgia.”
Savour Wine & Cheese, Gloucester, 76 Prospect St., 978-282-1455