What if I told you that I really liked a red wine that tasted like wet and cooked mint leaves, along with some sandy mud, dusty rock, white mushroom caps and dried tobacco leaves? Well, obviously, that particular, very likable, red wine had a lot of other, more likeable flavors to it. It’s one of the challenging characteristics of wine (and wine writers) that some of the most important and defining elements of wine are weird, counter-intuitive and often unappetizing.
And our media loves to mock the wine industry for it. But what differentiates one wine from another is not merely the easy stuff (red fruits vs black fruits, tartness vs ripeness, and such) but the small, often strange elements. And amongst those odd and unusual flavors and aromas, earth is paramount. Earth is easy to ridicule; it’s not a flavor or aroma that any of us are accustomed to pursuing when we taste. Nonetheless, if you look for it, earth is there in wine. Sometimes it’s a big note; sometimes it’s only a whisper. But we as creatures who are capable of noticing tens of thousands of flavors and aromas can find those notes, if only we look.
And, yes, in some wines, it’s easier than in others. Say, for instance, the wine that began this post: Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro 2005. Ruffino might possibly bore some label snots; it is often bright and fresh, full of fruit and very drinkable. Weird to think that makes it boring for some folks, but every palate is different. Ruffino Ducale never bores me and in very good vintages this wine can be lovely. And very lovely this is; there’s plenty of fruit, but beneath it, that fascinating earth, mint leaf, mushroom note and other odd elements that create complexity where mere deliciousness existed.