What Exactly are Earthy Wines, Anyway?

A backyard with a blurry red wine bottle and two rustic wine glasses on a stone table in the foreground, a fire pit in focus, and a clay fire pot in the background

Earthy wines explained.

by Erin Henderson

It's fall. Or nearly. And that means it's time to cue the blogs advising that it’s time for earthy wines. With autumn's approach, it’s time to put away the crisp whites and refreshing rosés and wrap ourselves in scarves and spicy reds.

two glasses of white wine amongst colourful fall leaves

While long time readers know I am loathe to relegate any wine to a specific season, I also know that there are social and climactic cues where one wine style might take precedence over another.

Ergo: the time has indeed come for earthy reds.

There’s only one, teensy, pesky little detail to these well-meaning, vinous guidelines.

What the heck are earthy wines?

Put simply, wines that have flavours and aromas of earth.

Hay, chalk, wool, petrol, or river rock in whites; dusty or wet soil, smoke, dried leaves, tar, or leather/meat/barnyard in reds. Fruit is present, but not the star.

Generally, earthy wines are dry, at least medium bodied, with a bit of oak aging. The oak isn’t the in the forefront, it’s more of a supporting player quietly humming along in the background. 

You may also like: How to Pair Wine with Fall Vegetables

A sprawling, green vineyard against a series of mountains

It’s a Matter of Place (and Winemaking)

You will notice in the list below, I have highlighted grapes specifically from designated regions. That’s because the terroir, and, of course, the way the winemaker guides the wine, have an impact on the final taste.

Malbecs from the southern French region of Cahors are so rife with animal and barnyard notes it’s nearly cruel to try them on a fledgling wine lover, whereas in Mendoza, the purple grape bursts with sweet fruit and floral notes that oenology enthusiasts embrace with gusto.

Syrah from the hilly northern Rhône brim with black pepper, bacon fat, and stemmy herb (garrigue), whereas their alter ego in the hot Barossa of Australia, Shiraz, is plump with jammy blackberry and cassis.

I know this can be frustrating for the uninitiated, so as a very, very broad rule of thumb, grapes grown in moderate to cool climates are more likely to produce earthy wines, than those climates that are very hot. There are outliers, of course, but this is a decent general guideline.

Examples of Earthy Wine

There are 3,000 wine grapes in the world; this is not an exhaustive list.

White:

Red:

Food Pairings

Whites: Roast chicken, white beans, turkey, game bird, mushrooms, risotto

Reds: cassoulet, duck confit, sausages, lamb chops, truffles

You may also like: Food and Wine Pairing 101

In General

Earthy wines are understated. They are not overly aromatic, nor fruity in flavour, nor plush on the palate. Wines made in this style are true wine lovers’ wines.

Of course, this is not to throw shade at anyone who doesn’t enjoy drinking them, earthy wines are tough to get to know, and can initially be a turnoff. But, just like the frustrating date who makes you work for it, they somehow earn your respect and awe. And eventually, these savoury, spicy, rocky, salty wines are the ones you take home to mother.

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