One of the hottest trends in the wine world during the last years is volcanic wines, that is, wines from grapes grown in soils made of volcanic material. 2018 was the year when this trend really erupted, initiated by the first ever International Volcanic Wine Conference in New York and followed by events in France in Germany. Although the interest for volcanic wines has boomed quite recently, volcanoes has always an alluring effect on people. The danger and power surrounding volcanoes is most probably a contributing factor for the attraction. But the volcanic wine expert and Master Sommelier John Szabo, who in 2016 published the ground-breaking book “Volcanic wines: salt, grit and power“ says that although ”humankind since the dawn of time has been attracted to volcanoes, it´s not for the thrill of putting one’s life in peril, but rather the magical things that happen around them”. So what is happening around them? The soil surrounding volcanoes is very rich in nutrients and perfect for growing many sorts of vegetables. Not without reason the Romans used to call the Southern Italian area nearby the volcano Vesuvius Campania Felix, literally meaning happy countryside and referring to its rich and fertile soil.
Merapi volcano, eruption at night. Painting by Raden Saleh, 1865.
Soils with volcanic elements are not only great for growing vegetables but also for growing grapes. And in many areas of the world growing grapes on lava and ash is an ancient practice. Volcanic areas for grape growing are present in many parts of the world, just to give some examples: Nahe in Germany, Mount Etna in Italy, Santorini in Greece, Tenerife in Spain, Somlo in Hungary and California in the U.S. So, between areas in so different climate zones, is it really possible to generalize about these wines characteristics? John Szabo mentions the big differences between wines from volcanic soils in northern European and tropical areas – the first are usually more fruity and the latter more sapid. However, there are some hallmarks for volcanic soils in general. They all tend to have a strong saltiness and minerality, but perhaps more importantly, they have a broader range of minerals compared to other soils such as calcareous or clay soils. Volcanic soils are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, and the porosity of the soil stores water which gives freshness. This leads to an interesting combination of earthy & smoky flavours, a strong minerality and flintiness and a sharp acidity that gives a remarkable longevity. In addition to the intense taste profile, John Szabo also talks about a certain tension coming from the magnetic energy fields surrounding the volcanos, a vibration that almost is perceptible in the wine. Whether this precence of energy is a geological fact or rather a product of imagination, it for sure brings even more appeal to the already romantic volcano wines.
But the uniqueness of wines from volcanic soils is connected to yet another important fact, namely the richness in grape varieties being grown in these areas. Not everything can grow in the special soil composition of volcanic soils such as lava, pumice, ash, and basalt. For instance, the Phylloxera-disease that destroyed most of Europe´s vineyards during the late 19th century, cannot. This is why indigenous and non-grafted grape varieties for long have been preserved and continuously grown in volcanic areas. The presence of these rare and native grapes with special attributes is probably a factor that has made people open up their eyes even more for volcanic wines – a curiosity awoken as a response to a homogenized wine market. Volcanic wine might not always be smooth and easy to grasp at first, their strong flavours might challenge our senses. But for sure, they are here to stay. Here are some interesting volcanic wines to try according to Decanter magazine in 2018: https://www.decanter.com/premium/volcanic-wines-325777/#cGmKBjEHsQMbj438.99