What the "F" is earthy?

You have heard it hundreds of times, wines being described as "earthy." But what does earthy really mean? What the fuck are sommeliers and winos talking about when the call a wine earthy? It is similar in its goals to describing flavors that are not covered by our fruits, herbs, flowers, and spices that we normally get from wines but it encompasses a whole lot more.

 
 
You stay classy...Planet Earth!

You stay classy...Planet Earth!

What is earthy? Why would you describe a wine like that?

Earthy is a broad term used to describe an array of flavors, usually having to do with being reminiscent of dust, soil, and wet gravel. Other flavors like mushrooms, decaying leaves, or musky smells can also be considered "earthy".  We have even seen people say a wine tastes and smells like forest floor. Who the hell goes around licking the forest floor? Your guess is as good as ours. Anyway, earthy tones can be pleasant to some, but off putting to others, but there is a dark secret to the term "earthy." 

A lot of wine writers and critics use the term earthy to make some flaws in the wine seem appealing. We generally do not want our wines smelling like they have been locked in a musty damp cellar, even though they have been. The writer clearly loves the wine, but wants you to get over the musty smell so they say its "earthy." 


So wines described as earthy are bad right?

Not necessarily. Earthy wines can be pretty good. What you don't want is a wine that is so far gone that all you get are the tastes and smells of your grandmother's basement. But wet stones, and mushroom flavors can give the wine a very savory appeal. If the earthy tones are not too forward, then the wine might be great with rich and hearty dinners. 

You will get a lot of earthy tones in natural wines as well as orange wines, where the wines have been left alone, untouched by technological influence. They celebrate the flaws knowing that there can actually be some good flavors in there.

Forest floor is a common wine term that can be considered "earthy"

Forest floor is a common wine term that can be considered "earthy"