By Joy Neighbors
This is the year for lava wine lovers.
It’s a trend that began a couple of years ago when wines from the Greek isle of Santorini burst onto the U.S. wine scene.
White wines with tangy notes tantalized wine drinkers while fiery reds rose above expectations. Soon the unique taste caught fire and a volcanic wine movement was born. The first International Volcanic Wine Conference was held in New York this past March, and wine aficionados, usually hard to impress, wanted more of what the world’s volcanic vineyards had to offer.
Smoky, mineral flavors
Vineyards planted in this molten earth composed of ash, volcanic rock, pumice and basalt produce grapes that lean toward smoky aromas and mineral flavors. This is what produces the high acidic levels in these tangy wines, which add exciting salty flavor profiles that create a savory presence in the mouth.
Although some purists will argue there are no volcanic wines per se, only volcanic soil, the scorched-earth aspect of the term lends itself to the wine’s mysterious attraction.
Of course, volcanic vineyards are nothing new. They can be found around the world in Chile, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and in the U.S. Some of the best known are located in Sicily in the shadow of Mount Etna, an active volcano that erupted in March of this year. In fact, it was this Etna DOC region that kindled the interest in volcanic wines around the world.
In Santorini, Greece, the earth is comprised of ash, pumice and volcanic rock from a volcano, which erupted as recently as 1950. This soil offers intense salt and mineral profiles to the wines.
Mount Vesuvius, located in southern Italy, last erupted in 1944, so those vines now grow in ashy soil that produces some of the best volcanic wines in the world.
The Canary Islands in Spain are volcanic, especially Tenerife Island where its volcano last erupted in 1909. These grapevines are planted in the cracks of Mount Teide, providing wines with profound earthy flavors.
Domestic volcanic wines
The U.S. also boasts its own dormant volcanic wine regions. In Lake County, California, Mount Konocti, a multiple volcano that hasn’t erupted for 11,000 years, still has locals reaping the benefits of the basalt and obsidian soils by producing wines with heavy tannins and flinty flavors.
The Mayacamas Mountains divide the Napa and Sonoma valleys, and Mount Veeder is the famous volcanic region where the acidic soil produces some of the most exquisite wine flavors.
In Oregon, Dundee Hills on the western side of the Willamette River Valley is comprised of volcanic soil, resulting in those popular smoky Pinots.
Summer is the perfect time to celebrate volcanic wines as they explode on the market. Expect to pay $18 – $100 for a bottle of one of these umami vinos — well worth the opportunity to experience those wonderfully diverse flavors. And don’t be too surprised when you find one that rocks your world (in a good way.)