Have you ever wondered what dirt tastes like? I have. So I did what any rational person would do and tried it. I set out to wine regions throughout Europe with this question in mind. I visited Tuscany in Italy, Porto in Portugal the Greek Isles and the Baden region in Germany.
I wanted to taste the Earth in a good glass of wine.
The Duoro river swivels through this valley, while lines of grapes trace cornrows through terraced vineyards above. In summer these grapes broil in the hot sun, grow bloated with sugar and dream of cooling themselves in the river below.
This Mediterranean climate makes the wine taste like a day at the beach in Greece. Warm and slow moving this thick wine stays around the edge of your glass just a bit too long when swirled. It dreams of nighttime beach dance parties where warm water and liquor heat up human bodies even when the sun is gone.
In the Baden region of Germany the weather is warmer than in other parts of Germany. The landscape is thick and green, but hints of cold crop up now and again. Life thrives here, nurtured by the Rhine river, protected by the Black Forest and Vosges Mountains. Here the earth tastes heavy, complex and full.
Red wine moves around your glass with strength and the fluidity of bobsledders flying down a track. The wine is not thick and under labor but has style. The taste is dry and a sweet but slightly bitter taste also arises, like the sudden change of a fall day from warm to cold.
Fresh and clean like the rushing Rhine, and also dry like the mountains. You can taste this wine's confusion, the land's confusion. Is it forest? Mountain? River Valley? A bit of all three.
In Tuscany the greens and yellows of summer give way to burnt red of fall as the sun's heat dries out fields and plants.
But in spring and summer, rolling hills of green fall out of sight, lost to the edge of the horizon. The land rises and then disappears, dropping off the map. Massive villas the color of tree bark pop in the sea of green.
Mist occasionally fills the valley in a thick layer of moisture, and buries trees and vines in grey. This is farmland here, but so much more. It has become a tourist destination, a place for gawkers to see where some of the best wine in the world comes from.
The most famous in this region, the Chianti, rolls on your palette like the region's hills. It is dry like the burnt red fields of fall and earthy like the green landscape of summer. It smells sweet, though, of fond memories spent in the Tuscan summer sun, and then vanishes like the landscape meeting the horizon.
On Greek Islands you can rent a four wheeler for the day and punch the throttle on dry dirt roads. A trail of dust rises from your wheels, shooting into the air in a thin line like crop-dusters dusting fields of corn.
If you stop at a random mom and pop winery, where the retired vineyard manager grows his own grapes and makes his own wine as a hobby, you will wet your palette with the warmth of friendship in a glass.
This wine tastes light like the carefree attitude of island life and airy like the wind blowing through you on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Soft and friendly like your vintner's smile this wine has hints of something more.
It reminds me of the plants I saw near the top of the island, they were green and very much alive but struggled against the heat and dry ground to grow big.