🍷 Wine 101 CourseShop Now
Wine Club

Wine Tasting Terms – Wine Folly Wine Club 009


Fruit, earth, minerality, and spice are four tasting terms used to describe terroir in wine. We found the four perfect bottles to establish these terms in your repertoire.

mineral-fruit-earth-spice-wine-large
Four wines perfectly typify mineral, earth, fruit, and spice.

Wine Club 009: Wine Tasting Terms

The wine community has borrowed the word terroir (“tear-wah”) from the French to describe flavors that go beyond the grape variety. Some wines taste earthy, but why?

For decades, science couldn’t explain how terroir expresses itself in the glass. However, if you ask an expert blind-taster, they can tell you accurately where a wine came from based on aromatic markers.

So, let’s walk through the big four: Fruit, Earth, Minerality, and Spice!

  • Fruit: An old vine field blend featuring Zinfandel.
  • Earth: The earthiest Cabernet Franc you’ll ever taste.
  • Minerality: A perfectly flinty Riesling from Germany
  • Spice: A Sangiovese from Italy creates a perfect storm of spice

Fruit

Whether you say “fruit-forward” directly or use more indirect adjectives like “exuberant” or “bombastic,” you’re talking about the dominance of fruit flavors. Why are some wines more fruity than others?

Want to drink better wine? Take better notes!

The wine journal's interior is custom designed to help develop your palate and log wine tasting notes.

Buy Now
  • Choice of grape variety: Certain varieties express more fruit in their primary flavors. Perfect example of this is Cabernet Franc vs. Zinfandel. Cabernet Franc has distinct leafiness whereas Zin outpaces grapes in its red berry notes. FYI, vine age matters; older vines tend to give more fruit concentration.
  • Wine from a warmer climate: In warmer climates, grapes become riper and give us darker, richer fruit flavors in red wines and more tropical fruit flavors in white wines. FYI, harvesting late in a cool climate gives us similar results (with some additional complexities).

An old vine field blend featuring Zinfandel

2020 Bedrock Wine Company “The Bedrock Heritage” Sonoma Valley

Initially planted in 1854 by Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and “Fightin’ Joe” Hooker, Bedrock’s thick and gnarled vines (some as high as six feet tall) rise from clay-loam soils, eking out tiny, thick-skinned, powerful grapes like only ancient vines can.

The Bedrock Heritage is a field blend built on Zinfandel, Carignan, and Mataro (Mourvèdre), accented with 27 other varieties interplanted on the property. Twain-Peterson co-fermented them (called a “field blend”), then aged the wine in a combination of large-format puncheons, demi-muids, and 228-liter barrels of French and Austrian oak.

The wine delivers rich raspberry, dried cranberry, medjool date, and sour cherry notes on first whiff, but it keeps going! There’s also white pepper, Sichuan peppercorn, peaches, and a low fog of chalkboard dust. Because of the large-oak aging, you’ll find the fruit is ever present, pure, and bombastic.

Follow along in the tasting video with Vanessa Conlin on YouTube.


Wine-aroma-earthy

Earth

We describe earth with tasting notes like “balsamic,” “forest floor,” or “tobacco” and it smells like sticking your nose into a bag of potting soil. Where does it come from?

  • Bottle age: Earthiness, along with other aromas such as tobacco and balsamic, are thought to be due to the transformation of volatile aroma compounds like sesquiterpenes, norisoprenoids, and methoxypyrazines.
  • It may also come from microbes: The presence of Brettanomyces and even noble rot has been linked to earthy smells
  • Common in cooler climates: Higher levels of sesquiterpenes are found in grapes from cooler climates – this may explain why grapes from these regions smell more earthy.

The earthiest Cabernet Franc you’ll ever taste

2019 Wilfrid Rousse “Les Puys” Chinon, France

The bistro, aptly, is called Le Refuge du Passé. A dusty, anachronistic jewel on Rue du Fer à Moulin in Paris’s 5th arrondissement. It’s got rustic and delicious fare, a cluttered zinc bar, and yellowed walls plastered with Piaf posters. It’s the kind of place you hope to stumble upon when prowling Paris in the blue hour—and the 2019 Wilfrid Rousse Chinon “Les Puys” is what you hope they’re pouring.

Epitomizing the independent, dirt-under-the-nails grower, Wilfred Rousse started out in 1987 with just a single hectare of vines. Over the years, he gradually grew his holdings to 19 hectares of prized, organically farmed, south-facing vines on the banks of the rolling Vienne River.

The wine isn’t faint-hearted, it’s a geological survey of soil types on the nose from temperate forest floor to mushroom. Within the layers of earth reveal Cabernet Franc’s classic savory notes of red pepper flake, violet, and ripe red cherries.

Follow along in the tasting video with Vanessa Conlin on YouTube.


The source of minerality in wine

Minerality

“Flint,” “chalk,” and “smoke” get thrown around to describe aromas mineral in nature. However, they’re not actually from minerals in wine.

  • They’re sulfur compounds: In small amounts, organosulfur compounds have a range of mineral-like aromas. In large amounts, they smell like garlic (considered a fault!).
  • Winemaking traditions play a role: Reducing the amount of oxygen exposure during winemaking can increase these aromas. Places that use this winemaking style consistently help create the mineral “terroir” of that regional wine.

A perfectly flinty Riesling from Germany

2020 Weinbiet Philipp Bassler “Trocken Grosses Gewächs” Riesling Pfalz, Germany

Coming from the Pfalz, the driest and sunniest region in the country, these vines see 2,000 hours of sunshine a year. For a dry (“trocken”) Riesling, the extra sun means more texture and structure on the palate.

Expect Apricot, honey, lime peel, and beeswax on the nose with a distinct mineral note like wet slate rocks. On the palate, it’s dry and lean with lime and green apple notes that leads into a long, honey-tinged finish.

Follow along in the tasting video with Vanessa Conlin on YouTube.


Spice

Whether it’s a peppery taste or the sense of piquancy in wine, spiciness encompasses several things going on inside the glass.

  • Higher acidity and alcohol levels: The burning sensation described as spicy is most likely from increased acidity or alcohol level.
  • The grape variety: Certain wine varieties like Syrah, have more pepper-like flavors in their primary aromas. Finally, some grapes, like Sangiovese, are famous for their sky-high acidity.

A Tuscan Sangiovese creates a perfect storm of spice

2018 Tenuta Loacker Valdifalco Morellino di Scansano Tuscany, Italy

The Morellino di Scansano region occupies the far south of Tuscany, where warm days ripen grapes more reliably than the cooler northern areas, while maritime breezes and brisk nighttime temperatures preserve fresh acidity.

The 2018 Tenuta Valdifalco embodies the dynamic rusticity that’s got some of Italy’s top winemakers flocking to Morellino. It’s a showcase of character that kicks off with bold fruit, from plums to black cherry to boysenberry, then turns to holiday spice and pink peppercorns. Built on powerful tannins and generous acidity, the wine has plenty of underlying details to tease out.

Follow along in the tasting video with Vanessa Conlin on YouTube.


Join Us

The Wine Folly Wine Club features four carefully curated wines designed to expand your palate and sophistication with wine. Learn more about the Wine Folly Wine Club.

Want to drink better wine? Take better notes!

The wine journal's interior is custom designed to help develop your palate and log wine tasting notes.

Buy Now

AboutMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly