What Makes a Wine Taste Earthy

Curious what sommeliers mean when they describe a wine as earthy? Don’t fret—you’re not sipping on dirt and pine needles. Here’s what makes a wine taste earthy!

When you’re at a wine tasting or first learning about wine, you may hear people throwing around a lot of different descriptors. In a previous post, we talked about some of the common descriptors, and in this piece, we’re going to delve into a term that tends to correspond with red wines—earthy. Read on to discover what exactly makes a wine taste earthy.

When we first hear someone describing a wine as earthy, we may think, “Who wants to drink something that tastes like dirt?” However, when you taste an earthy wine, it’s not like you’re getting grit and crunchy leaves in your mouth. The term encompasses many different aromas and tasting experiences. Let’s dig in!

Understanding Tasting Notes

Some wine labels will include tasting notes where you may read descriptions like, “Notes of chocolate, ripe plum, and forest floor.” That may, at first, seem concerning—nobody wants to sip up pine needles with their wine!

But this phrasing doesn’t mean the wine includes grapes, plum, chocolate, and sap—these wines typically only have grapes in them. The flavor compounds are simply reminiscent of the other flavors and aromas. We notice this both through taste and smell.

Orthonasal vs. Retronasal Olfaction

Tasting and flavor notes can refer to a taste, a smell, or both! We experience scents in two different ways—through orthonasal olfaction (smelling through your nose) and retronasal olfaction (smelling from inside your mouth). Both of these impact flavor notes. So how does that impact how we understand tasting notes for earthy wines?

What an Earthy Wine Means

“Earthy” tends to be a sort of umbrella term for red wines. It can have both positive and negative connotations, depending on the winemaking process. For example, some Pinot Noirs are described as earthy, meaning that the fruit flavors often present in this light-bodied red are balanced out with a scent similar to a wet forest floor. It’s still a positive experience, but your orthonasal olfaction gives you the earthy flavor note.

What Makes a Wine Taste Earthy?

The different compounds in a wine impact the flavor notes we experience. These compounds can change based on various elements, but a significant factor of earthiness comes from the soil in which the vines grow. Grape ripeness also plays a role—underripe grapes come across as more herbal and vegetal, leaning toward that earthy description.

You may also hear earthy described as “tobacco”—this doesn’t mean it tastes like cigarettes. Instead, it indicates the woody, pleasant scent of earthy tobacco leaves, and it typically results from bottle aging.

“Earthy Wines”

Below are some wines you may typically see described as earthy:

Louis Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Moshin Dry Creek Valley Molinari Vineyard Merlot 2012
Donato Giangirolami Prodigo Lazio IGP Syrah 2015
Domaine Nicolas Rossignol Volnay 1er Cru Chevret 2017
92 Pt. Marianot Garblet Barbaresco by Giorgio Sordo 2017
Montes de Leza Rioja Tempranillo 2018

Here at Wines ‘Til Sold Out, we offer a variety of red wines, so you can experiment with finding earthy wine notes. We offer you discount wine online so that you can feel good about purchasing a variety of bottles to suit your tasting needs. Peruse our selections, and see what strikes your fancy!


  • The earthiest wine I ever had was a WTSO selection … Ribera del Duero 2009 García de Aranda Señorio de Los Baldíos. So very earthy I described it as as having a hint of manure. But I loved it.

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