Does Mead Have Terroir? 02/17/11
I believe it does…and it’s all in the honey. Terroir is a wine’s geographic fingerprint. A set of unique characteristics that define the soil and climate of a wine growing region and impart distinctive flavors, textures and aroma to a wine. If mead doesn’t necessarily involve plants grown in the earth itself, what gives it terroir then? I’ll try and answer that here.
Honey is an amazingly complex substance. Throw in the fact that there are always variations in the weather, and you have the same parcel of land producing honey that is distinctive each and every year.
Melissopalynology is the study of honey’s composition. Honey is comprised of several different sugars – mostly dextrose, levulose, fructose and glucose, and to a smaller extent, maltose and sucrose. It also contains proteins- amino acids, and various vitamins – thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, Vitamin C; and minerals like calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, sodium and zinc! Rule of thumb is that the darker the honey is, the more nutrients it contains. And those are just the easily identified components! Now you know why the study of honey has such a complex name! Although it’s the sugars that make honey taste like honey, all the other minor constituents are what gives each variety of honey it’s unique flavor. The bees also introduce components into this picture as they process the nectar into honey. They introduce acids, enzymes, and reduce the water content, which results in honey’s ability to stay unspoiled for long periods of time. And of course, we can’t forget the trace pollen present. Many believe this is what allows honey to alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms. Think of taking local honey for allergies like receiving a vaccination- a light introduction between your body’s immune system and the source of irritation or disease.
So what is the honey’s, for lack of a better term, terroir? I would say it is the bee’s floral source. That nectar supply that contributes those minor, variable, yet amazingly complex and tasty unique honey components. Scientists are still working to figure out all the various components in nectar.
Bees must tap 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey. This generally requires about 10,000 worker bees.
Surely there is no better, nor a more fitting term for honey than liquid gold. Thank you little friends.