The Ecosystems Behind Three Common Wine Descriptors | Wine Enthusiast
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The Ecosystems Behind Three Common Wine Descriptors

From single vineyards to entire regions, winegrowing areas around the world each boast a distinct blend of environmental factors that influences the characteristics of wine. Elements like temperature, sunlight and rainfall play a part, as do more granular details, like soil’s pH level and microbial makeup.

When it comes to tasting and describing wine, some regions’ combined environs have such a distinct impact on the final product that they are more commonly considered together, grouped under a single term that refers to their joint influence on aroma or flavor.

Garrigue, chaparral and fynbos are all examples of such descriptors that have earned big reputations for the effects on the wines they birth. Here, we take a closer look at their physical breakdown.


Ringing the Mediterranean, garrigue is a low, brushy scrubland grown in calcareous or limestone soils. It’s composed predominantly of kermes oak, juniper, evergreen holm oak, lavender, thyme, rosemary and sage.

Though some say the limestone origins are crucial for the term’s use, it refers primarily to the fragrant, herbaceous aspects of garrigue’s rustic, sun-blasted herbs. It’s expressed most notably in red wines from the South of France.


Technically speaking, chaparral is a terrestrial biozone, or regional system of vegetation, made up of forests and scrublands, and divided into coastal, montane and interior subregions. It extends primarily through California but can also be found in Oregon.

Made up of native plants like bay laurel, sage, sumac, lupine, tree poppy, manzanita and mountain mahogany, it typically influences wines to develop pungent, earthy characteristics that some liken to garrigue. It’s often tied to California red wines.


Meaning “fine bush” in Afrikaans, fynbos refers to the swathe of biodiverse mountainous and lowland shrubland in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa’s Western and Eastern Cape. Composed of more than 9,000 plant species, its rich florals can impact the nose and flavor of area wines, especially whites like Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.

Many winemakers also use it as a cover crop, as it helps with pest control, moisture, microbial diversity and carbon dioxide retention, and improves the health of the soil overall.