Noble Rot

Volcanic Wine

‘Volcanic Wine’ is hot topic and a buzz word in the wine world. Not to be left behind, the Society is holding no less than three tastings of wines of volcanic origin in the new Academic Year


Wine producers and trade are not slow to exploit the symbolic power of volcanoes. Minoans were selling wine made on the volcanic island of Santorini 4000 years ago. The Volcanic Wines International Forum was established in Soave last year. Bodegas de Volcanes was set up to explore the winemaking possibilities of volcanic soils in Chile. Canadian Master Sommelier John Szabo published Volcanic Wine: Salt, Grit & Power last year. Pietradolce on Mount Etna calls their wines ‘Volcanic.’ Yotam Ottolenghi‘s Nopi restaurant in London has a ‘Volcanic Wines’ section in the wine list.

Do wines from volcanic soils have unique features? Some use terms such as ‘sulphurous’ and ‘lava-like’ to describe these wines – like ‘chalkiness’ in Chablis and ‘flintiness’ in the Mosel. Geisenheim Institute in Germany has found high concentrations of minerality-linked compounds in wines of volcanic origin. Alsace winemaker Olivier Humbrecht MW says: “The same grape grown on different soil types and grown the same way will consistently develop the same flavour profiles on each soil type year after year, and yes, volcanic soils do have this distinctive flinty, smoky, salty character.”

Despite the widely accepted views on ‘terroir,’ there is no scientific evidence that minerals in soil can impart specific flavours to a wine. Geological minerals are different from the nutrient minerals that vines absorb. The 14 nutrient minerals needed by the vine are required only in trace quantities and tend to come from organic matter and not rocks. Volcanic soils are rich in Potassium, Manganese and Iron but according to Alex Maltman, Professor of Geology at University of Aberystwyth, “Higher concentrations of minerals in soil by no means equates to greater mineral uptake by the vine – vine roots do not passively accept whatever minerals the water in the soil has dissolved, but act as self-regulating filters.”

It is interesting that mycorrhizal fungi, which can live in symbiosis with the vine roots, can extract certain elements from the surface of the rock directly and yield them to the vine in exchange for carbon. It is well established that the sugar free dry extract of volcanic wines is significantly higher than that of non-volcanic wines. They also have a slightly higher pH giving a sense of ‘saltiness’ on the palate. Being poor in clay, volcanic soils are phylloxera free and support ancient ungrafted vines which express ‘minerality’ best. Assyrtiko wines from Santorini however have very high acidity (pH 2.92 – 2.93!) but it is possible that the very high sulphur content in the soil and possibly on fruit, trigger reductive reactions in the wine, consuming oxygen and thus casing changes in taste and acidity.

There is little doubt that ‘Volcanic Wines’ form an interesting sub-goup in the wine spectrum and a closer look at them would be of great interest to all wine-lovers. The Society has put together no less than three tastings of wines of volcanic origin, starting with Yarra Valley Wines of Mac Forbes – probably the least expressive volcanic terroir of the three, High-Grade Greeks featuring Assyrtiko from Santorini and finally, the most volcanic of all – Volcanic Wines of Pietradolce, from the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna.


Sunday 25 June 2017: Sunday was bright and sunny in London. I walked along Regents Canal to Granary Square and had lunch at the fabulous Grain Store where the prodigiously talented chef Bruno Loubet is a King’s Cross dining king. I drank Esporao Blanco Reserva 2015 with homemade sausage, wild mushrooms, potato and ducks eggs. The wine from Portugal’s Alentejo region is a delightful blend of Antao Vaz, Roupeiro, Arinto and Semillón. It brought back very pleasant memories of our visit to Esporao in June 2016. Outside on the square, kids were playing in the fountains and I stood and watched a pretty girl on a canal boat playing the harp. It was a great way to spend Sunday afternoon!

Friday 23 June 2017: Preparations for the July Meerlust Tasting have started in earnest. All the wines are in place, Powerpoint presentation is taking shape and publicity material from Effi Tsournava of Maisons Marques et Domaines – UK agents for Meerlust, arrived this morning. I have requested the Company’s Trade Wine List and Serendib Promotions can open a trade account to source Meerlust and other interesting wines for the Society if members are interested. It is also hoped that the two remaining places for the Meerlust tasting will be filled soon.

I have mixed feelings about the apparently booming Georgian tourist industry which could affect the ancient charm of the country. I am glad that the Society managed 3 tours since 2011 before things got too hectic. This came from a new tour operator yesterday: “Geo City Travel  is an independent travel agency oriented on making the exclusive tours around Georgia, organized by the professionals loving their work. Our love towards Georgia enables us to offer you Individual or Family luxury holidays at unbelievable value. Please check attached package below, and come back to me. We have some great offers for very good price. – Levan Kobakhidze, Tbilisi, Georgia.”

I drove down to London in the afternoon for a weekend break, walked in Finsbury Park in the evening watching urban foxes and  and drank La Rioja Alta’s Vina Arana 2008 with supper.

Thursday 22 June 2017: It was an early start to the day. The Hedonist was done and posted and a wine order sent to Fells before seven. Two cases of Louis Roederer champagne for the December dinner arrived from Lea & Sandeman, Michael Drappier wanted to know where we would be staying on 25th October during the Rhone/Champagne tour and to my delight, John & Pat Shore responded to the 2018 Tasting Calendar and cancellation of the Dirk Niepoort tasting, before eight! 

On the subject of Niepoort, I uncorked a bottle of his Rotulo 2013 for supper, a Dao red from 30 to 60 year old Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Touriga Nacional vines, vinified in stainless steel and aged for 22 months in cement vats. It went well with Stamna – Greek baked lamb with aubergines, red peppers, tomato and potatoes.

Wednesday 21 June 2017: Yesterday I marked the Summer Solistice with a bottle of Barone Ricasoli Torricella Chardonnay 2015. It was my first taste of the unusual Tuscan blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Sauvignon Blanc and I liked it. The Chardonnay was aged for 9 months in wood with skin contact and the Sauvignon Blanc also for 9 months but in stainless steel without skin contact. The wine is rich with good texture from long skin contact but not tannic like a Georgian qvevri wine. The oak is in the background and though linear, has fine fruit and a dry, long finish. It is a good food wine and complemented buttery and nutty Sicilian Nocellara olives in brine (sold by Olives Direct) and new potatoes cooked with thyme and telaggio. It is on offer from Fells till tomorrow (Friday) and I have placed an order for two cases today for delivery next week.

Tuesday 20 June 2017: Last week, Andrew Jefford described in Decanter his meeting with the eminent wine critic and educator Michael Schuster at his home in London (Hedonist published a link on Sunday). “Which famous person, alive or dead, would you most like to share a great bottle with (and what would you serve to him or her)?” Jefford asks him. Schuster replies: “Mozart. At the moment it would be JJ Prüm’s 2004 Whelener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese. As refreshing, transparent, and moving as so much of his music.” That brought a smile to my face. I bought two cases of the wine during one of the Society’s visits to the Mosel to taste at JJ Prüm some years ago. I drank the first case last year and I will think of Mozart and Schuster when I drink the second over the next few years.

Monday 19 June 2017: The previous week’s heat wave continued and another senseless atrocity in London shattered the morning peace. Goldfinches chirped in the morning sun and a nuthatch waddled awkwardly across the patio looking for a worm. Fathers Day had come and gone without a drop of wine passing my lips – the heat, high UV and pollen are to be blamed. Master of Wine Sebastian Payne’s account of his visit to Tuscany for The Wine Society and his meeting with Paolo de Marche of Isole e Olena was read with joy. It brought back memories of a meeting with the great Tuscan producer at a portfolio tasting of Liberty Wines in London years ago when a day trip to the capitol by train was still affordable. (You can read Sebastian Payne’s “Would the real sangiovese please stand up!” here). I couldn’t help thinking how lovely it would be to feature Islo e Olena’s 2010 Cepparello in magnums (£110 The Wine Society) at a tasting of the Society!

Dr. Tony Coral wrote to me a week or so ago wanting to buy a case or two of Mt. Horrocks Nero de Avola and I am down to my last three bottles of Polish Hill. As both wines are imported to the UK by Liberty (owned by David Gleave MW), I e-mailed Andy Taylor in sales for the current trade list. Liberty are the agents for countless top producers, both in the Old & New World such as Pieropan, Allegrini, Cullen, Ata Rangi, Charles Melton etc. etc…

Images below are from the Society’s tour of Tuscany in 2007.

The first wine of the week was Pouilly-Fume Les Chailloux 2001 from Jean-Claude Chatellain. You would be right in thinking that a 16 year old Pouilly-Fume is way past its drink by date. It has lost all its Sauvignon Blanc features, but was rich and honeyed with excellent fruit and acidity and was perfectly drinkable.


Sunday 18 June 2017: – “Small Group Tastings – Way Forward For The HMWS?” Lately, more and more HMWS events are undersubscribed and require subsidies from the meagre funds of the Society. Several members have suggested that small group tastings, restricted to 15 where only one bottle of each wine to be tasted is needed, could be the way forward. However, that would not be possible at the Masonic Hall where the minimum number has to be 28. The Golf Club too would not be keen to host regular evening events for 15 but tastings on Sundays when the carvery lunch is on (every other Sunday) is a possibility. Again, to do exactly that today, did not get enough support probably because of Fathers Day. It would be interesting to see what response we have for the proposed small group event on Sunday 16 July. An alternative would be for members to host ‘home tastings’ Again, only a small number of members have the facilities to do that. Needless to say that all expenses of such volunteers would be reimbursed.



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