As people pay more attention to where what the consume comes from, the wine term terroir is being applied to everything from heirloom tomatoes to hops in beer. But its meaning is not always clear. Terroir rhymes with pinot noir, which is apt since this is the style of wine most often praised for its terroir characteristics. This French word means earth or soil, but in wine lingo the term can be translated as “location-specific sensory traits." Essentially, terroir is the recognizable taste and smell of a place, namely those associated with agricultural products whose region of origin alters their flavor.

The terroir concept was pioneered in the medieval era in pinot noir’s home region of Burgundy, France. It is what creates demand for all sorts of specialty goods — sweet onions from Vidalia, Georgia, or coffee beans from Kona, Hawaii. In wine, terroir is often described as an earthy scent or mineral flavor, but site-specific traits can include fruity, spicy, herbal, or nutty flavors.

Some grape varieties feature uncommonly earthy flavors all on their own though, most notably pinot noir, and this is particularly true of those from cooler, cloudier regions, since warmer climates and riper grapes can overwhelm and obscure more subtle terroir traits. This helps explain why the finest pinot noir wines tend to come from cooler regions, as with this delightful example from coastal Monterey County, south of San Francisco. And if you close your eyes, you may find an earthy terroir-driven scent of sautéed wild mushrooms intermingled with its flavors of raspberries, sour cherries, and mulling spices.

A wine with fine terroir will reflect its region
A wine with fine terroir will reflect its region

Wente “Riva Ranch” Pinot Noir Monterey, Calif.

$19.99 14.5% alcohol; PLCB Item #9539

On sale through March 29, regularly $25.99

Also available at: Berkley Fine Wine & Spirits in Clarksboro, N.J., $17.99; Canal’s in Mount Ephraim, N.J., $22.99; Total Wine & More in Claymont, Del. — $26.99