Volcanic Wines Are Blowing Up

Interest in these mountainous wines is sky-high.

By Mike Desimone, Jeff Jenssen 14/04/2021

Volcanic soils cover less than one percent of the Earth’s surface, yet wines from grapes cultivated on the slopes of ancient volcanoes have a sizable reputation among oenophiles. Thanks to the fertile, mineral-rich soils, volcanic wines have a distinctive profile that leans toward the savoury, with herbal notes and touches of salt and brine. Here, five regions bringing the heat.

Irpinia, Italy

Volcano: Mount Vesuvius

What to Know: Home to the only active volcano on the European mainland, this Neapolitan region is known for the red aglianico grape as well as three white varieties: falanghina, fiano and greco di tufo. Both red and white wines here are noted for ripe fruit flavours, distinct minerality and notes of dried herbs.

One to Try: Mastroberardino Villa dei Misteri Rosso Pompeiano 2011 (approx. $288). Grown within the walls of Pompeii, this is a blend of grapes farmed by the ancient Romans: piedirosso, aglianico and sciascinoso. Its cherry and black-plum flavours are joined by notes of thyme and sage, all enveloped in mellow tannins.

Santorini, Greece

Volcano: Santorini Volcano

What to Know: Vacationers come for the island’s stunning crystalline seas and picturesque white-and-blue villages, but Santorini is really one big farm. Low-profile assyrtiko grapevines are wound into large, wreath-like shapes called ampeles, which shade the berries against strong winds and hot sun while the leaves help retain moisture from the holes dug into soft, black volcanic earth.

One to Try: Domaine Sigalas Kavalieros Assyrtiko 2017 (approx. $130). Proprietor Paris Sigalas is credited as the visionary who saw the untapped potential in high-quality assyrtiko. This single-vineyard bottling has concentrated flavours of grapefruit and pineapple and a salty, smoke-tinged finish.

Lake County, California

Volcano: Mount Konocti, part of Clear Lake Volcano Field

What to Know: At half-a-million years old, Clear Lake is not just the county’s namesake but the oldest lake in the United States, and its Red Hills Lake County AVA sub-region sits at the base of the extinct, 1,310-metre Mount Konocti, which last erupted 11,000 years ago. The red soil in this area just north of Napa Valley is lauded for producing exemplary cabernet sauvignon and red blends.

One to Try: Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (approx. $100). The soil of Hawk and Horse’s vineyard is filled with chunks of quartz known as “Lake County Diamonds”, which were formed during long-ago lava flows. The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied, with blackberry and cassis flavours and notes of butterscotch and tobacco.

Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary

Volcano: Szt. Tamás, part of the Telkibânya Volcanic Dome Field

What to Know: Much of Hungary’s surface is volcanic, and underground hot springs abound. The Telkibânya Volcanic Dome Field, which straddles the Slovakian border in the northeast, is responsible for the iron-rich soils in the country’s most renowned region, Tokaj-Hegyalja, the birthplace of sweet Tokaji wines and dry Furmint.

One to Try: Royal Tokaji Szt. Tamás Single Vineyard 6 Puttonyos Aszu First Growth 2013 (approx. $182). The Szt. Tamás hill is one of over 400 volcanoes that dot the region. This ethereal sweet wine is full on the palate, offering flavours of orange marmalade and honeycomb, with brilliant acidity and a muscular, mineral core.

Sicily, Italy

Volcano: Mount Etna

What to Know: Established in 1968, Etna DOC was Sicily’s first official wine region. Its modern red blends offer rich mouthfeel and Mediterranean herb notes. About 3,320-metres high, Mount Etna is the preeminent feature of northeast Sicily, and nearly 300 producers grow indigenous red and white grapes on the black soils that lie in sight of the imposing volcano’s frequently smoking cap.

One to Try: Donnafugata Fragore Etna Rosso 2016 (approx. $114). Cultivated on the north side of Etna in the Montelaguardia district, this 100 per cent nerello mascalese derives its complex texture from the mountain’s sandy lava terroir, offering flavours of raspberry and blackberry, with notes of nutmeg and river rocks.

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