There’s a lot of buzz around volcanic wines these days – but what are they? How are volcanic wines different? Are they good quality? Do they age well? So many questions!
If you’ve wondered about volcanic wines even for a moment, we’ll break it down for you so you can fill your glass—or your cellar—with some good volcanic buys.
Volcanic Wines Defined
Volcanic wines are a general category referring to wines grown on volcanic soil. Simply put, if grapes are grown on or near a volcano, the soil contains a large proportion of mineral-laden volcanic material: lava, basalt, pumice, and volcanic alluvium—everything that settles into the land after a volcanic eruption.
You might wonder why anybody would be so crazy as to plant vineyards on a volcanic slope, but winemakers and growers do not shy away from adversity. As you might imagine, soil with this type of composition isn’t the easiest to farm. Therefore, much of the work must be done by hand, making for quite a laborious process.
Though volcanic earth only makes up a tiny bit of the world’s arable land, it is remarkably good for grapes. It drains well and has a high mineral content but is not particularly fertile, resulting in wines that are structured, savory, concentrated, and higher in acidity, often in sharp contrast to wines made in neighboring regions on non-volcanic soils.
Where in the World to Find Volcanic Wines
Mount Etna, Sicily
The best-known volcanic wine appellation is Etna, in the Southern Italian region of Sicily. Sicilian wines are typically known for low acidity and high alcohol, but grapes grown on high volcanic slopes result in wines with great minerality, structure, and finesse. Typical Etna grape varieties are Nerello Mascelese for reds, Carricante for whites, and other varieties native to the region.
Canary Islands, Spain
Despite the sub-tropical climate, Canary Island red wines are remarkably light and fresh. Red wines made from native Listan Negro can be compared to gamay (Beaujolais) in body and flavor, with notes of black pepper, raspberries, blackberries, and fennel. White wines are often made from Malvasia or Listan Bianco (a synonym for Palomino in the region) and a long list of indigenous grapes.
Red Mountain, Washington State
Washington’s Red Mountain AVA is part of the Cascade Mountain Range and is well-known for its world-class syrah and cabernet sauvignon. Though the region is significantly further north, its climate is similar to Napa Valley in terms of heat and sunshine, resulting in weighty wines with incredible finesse and structure, due in no small part to its volcanic soils.
Lake County, California
Lake County is just an hour’s drive north of Napa Valley and one of the most important growing regions in the state – even though you’ve probably never heard of it before. The vineyards between Cobb Mountain and Mt. Konocti are replete with high-elevation vineyards, especially in AVAs like Red Hills and High Valley, both of which are known for their cabernet sauvignon.
While Etna wines might be the most accessible source, you can also find volcanic wines from Oregon’s Amity Hills, Campania in Italy, and Santorini in Greece. To learn more about volcanic wines, check out Master Sommelier John Szabo’s book, Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grip, and Power.
Travel the world one sip at a time: sign up for a wine club subscription today!