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5 to Try: Volcanic Wines

In June, winemakers and other wine pros from around the world convened in New York City for the International Volcanic Wine Conference, created and hosted by master sommelier John Szabo. Knowing that many wine drinkers are unfamiliar with volcanic wines, we asked Szabo to recommend some bottles that serve as an entry point to the category. “It’s a big category—it covers literally hundreds of grape varieties in every known climate that grapes are grown in—but if I had to distill it down, for me, volcanic wines tend to be more savory than fruity,” says Szabo, also partner and principal critic for WineAlign.com and author of Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power. “Folks are looking for something new, unique, hyper-local that you can’t find everywhere else, and the volcanic wine world provides a lot of excitement for discovery.”

Gai’a ‘Assyrtiko by Gai’a’ Wild Ferment, Santorini, Greece

“Winemaker Yiannis Paraskevopoulos is one of the key figures in the recent history of Santorini,” says Szabo, pointing to the winemaker’s experimentation, such as fermentations in acacia wood and aging bottles under the sea. Assyrtiko is a white varietal native to Santorini and the Aegean Islands. “The Assyrtiko Wild Ferment is a wine of terrific complexity, aged half in steel, half in wood, with warm climate–defying high acids and low pH thanks to this [active] volcanic island’s curiously low soil potassium content,” says Szabo. “It’s one of the wines that put Santorini on the world [volcanic] wine map.” $48.99, wine.com

Suertes del Marques Vidonia, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

“The wines of the Canaries have been gathering significant commercial steam in the last decade, with Suertesdel Marques, established in 2006, at the forefront,” says Szabo. The Vidonia is made with Listan Blanco (aka Palomino) from ungrafted vines more than a century old and trained in a braided technique called trenzado. Crafted with minimal intervention and aged in large oak foudres, the wine carries “a marvelously flinty-stony essence,” Szabo says. $29.97, winechateau.com

Planeta Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy

“Sicily’s Mount Etna has become somewhat of a poster child for the volcanic wine movement,” says Szabo, noting that the past three decades have seen the region grow from a handful of commercial producers to nearly 300 today. “Diego Planeta established his outpost on the mountain in 2008, building a winery into an old lava flow from a 1556 eruption,” says Szabo. “The Etna Rosso DOC is a fine introduction to Nerello Mascalese and the reds of Etna—a smoldering, stony, smoky, sharp red fruit–flavored wine from vineyards on the north side of the volcano at over 1,600 feet elevation.” $38.99, wine.com

Elena Fucci ‘Titolo’ Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy

“Fucci has quickly risen to the top ranks in Basilicata,” says Szabo of the winemaker who opened her winery in 2004 on the family property where her grandfather and great-grandfather grew grapes. “The prime terraced vineyards in the heart of Barile include some of Vulture’s oldest [60 to 75 years] and highest elevation Aglianico plantings at over 2,000 feet,” he says. “Titolo is a towering monument to the volcano and to Aglianico—a deep, sumptuous, and expressive wine that takes many years in bottle to unravel.” $37.90, ny.eatalyvino.com

Cristom Vineyards Pinot Noir Jessie Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

A notable wine region in its own right, Oregon’s Willamette Valley has a history of volcanic activity that left the region laced with volcanic soils that continue to have an influence today, such as at Cristom Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills. “The unwavering house style featuring depth and age-ability shows through in four single-vineyard Pinots from the predominantly volcanic estate and its shallow, stony Nekiahsoils,” says Szabo. “Jessie Vineyard, with its more variable soil depth, higher organic matter, and more favorable pH and calcium levels, yields a wine of significant grip and structure.” $89.99, wine.com

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