In This Review

Land and Wine: The French Terroir
Land and Wine: The French Terroir
By Charles Frankel
University Of Chicago Press, 2014, 264 pp

As do most books on wine, this one contains histories of famous regions and ancient vineyards, paeans to the distinctiveness of particular grapes, and florid descriptions of specific wines. And, as do nearly all wine books, it sings the praises of terroir -- the qualities that a product such as wine exhibits owing to its place of origin. Yet I have never encountered a book quite like this one. In careful detail, it tells the geological history of France, at each point linking the character of the country’s wines to the underlying geology of the land on which the grapes are grown. The story proceeds chronologically, starting 500 million years ago, when great oceans were swallowed up during tectonic shifts, and ends just 10,000 years ago, at the moment when the Strait of Gibraltar broke open and the Mediterranean ceased to be an inland sea. Throughout, one is struck by the violence and diversity of geological change and by the overarching lesson that few things are as essential to a place as its terroir.