Elegance and minerality from prehistoric soils in continuous renewal
Often the great wine academics are on the look for connections to relate wines from different regions.
The Canadian author, Master Sommelier John Szabo used the volcanic soil as a lowest common denominator of wines which, in his view, convey elegance and body with a mineral character surprising at all longitudes.
The book Vulcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power comes from a random necessity dictated by the pure pleasure of the author and not from a geological interest. The book provides valuable scientific data and information, but the absolute protagonist is the wine.
Reading the pages and looking at the fascinating and engaging photographs you embark on a tour through various continents and remote and insular locations. Often, indeed, the volcanic and insular components form a single indissoluble element that from Hawaii to Pantelleria generates extraordinary nectars in all variations of colour and sweetness, including more sparkling versions.
The inhospitable soil has allowed in some cases the survival of the vines to phylloxera. So, the century-old vines, concentrating production in a few clusters of very high quality, offer a raw material destined to evolve into great wines.
Habitually consumers reach out towards categories of wine grapes or related to area of origin, but almost never on the type of soil that characterises them. The terroir is instead on the rise and many fans around the globe begin to ask and look for specific wine characteristics.
The Canadian MS considers that volcanic wines constitute a non-scientific sensorial category irrespective of chemical elements, from the climate or from the grapes involved. The volcanic soil encourages abundant oxygenation of the vine that translates into minerality, for the author it is a tactile sensation enveloping and hard to put into words.
The attempt of chemical research to understand the nature of minerality has led to study in the Azores where a wine producer has measured and compared the levels of potassium between the local wines and continental wines. Specifically, the wines from the volcanic islands, with basaltic soils, had a potassium content three times higher than the mainland Portuguese wines.
The origin of the growing interest of the author for volcanic wines, he says, was born after an encounter with Assyrtiko from Santorini produced by Domaine Sigalas.
The author describes it as unusual and perhaps not too pleasant, quite honestly no fruity notes, it is not smooth, nor is it a wine to drink by the fireplace, but expresses a captivating and surprising intensity and brutal force. During a Domaine Sigalas assyrtiko vertical tasting has understood the veracity, a different taste to each vintage soul, just like every worthy great wine from Soave to Riesling, Grüner Veltliner or Pinot Gris of Alsace.
From Santorini Szabo flew on Mongibello to try the extraordinary wines of Etna, and after a stop in Hungary decided to visit all the volcanic areas of the world where wines are produced.
Of course, categorize wine is never an easy task. The components that influence the peculiarities are such as to make impossible a universal classification. In addition to soil chemistry, climate, location on the hill of each plot gives unique and unrepeatable aromas.
Our suggestion is to use the book as a guide to check with your senses the volcanic wine notes, perhaps with the aid of maps and guidance about labels, producers and regions. For those who want to discover the wines of volcanic regions across Italy, the appointment is at Vinitaly where Soave Consortium has organized a guided tasting of Italian volcanic pearls.