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Rose Murray Brown: Volcanic wines erupt with flavour and character

Scotsman wine columnist Rose Murray Brown picks out some of her favourite volcanic wines.

Published: May 9, 2016
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When I was a wine student, I was always being told that volcanic soils gave wines special properties from high acidity, minerality and salinity – to a potential for longevity.

The idea that anyone would want to live on the slope of an active volcano like Mount Etna in Sicily, let alone try to grow vines there, fascinated me. Delving into the volcanic wine world, I was blown away by the number of examples I found – from the islands of Madeira and Pantelleria to Veneto’s slopes in north-east Italy and Somlo in Hungary, to Willamette Valley in Oregon and Napa valley in California.

All benefit from the wonderful nutrient-rich time capsule of volcanic soil deriving from active, dormant or extinct volcanoes.

Volcanic eruptions give certain properties very useful for vine growers; for example, good water retention (particularly helpful on dry viticultural islands with no rivers like Lanzarote, Tenerife or Santorini) where tiny crevices in basalt lava can store water up to 100 per cent of their weight. Soils are rich in calcium, iron, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium giving special characteristics to wines.

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In simple terms, there are two basic types of volcanic soils in wine regions. Firstly, vent-based soils from “tuff” rock material ejected into the air and cooled before settling to earth; secondly, the red hot lava flowing down a volcano slope is rapidly cooled creating basalt or andesite soil types.

Our tasters found volcanic reds tended to be lighter, more elegant and occasionally less tannic than those from other soil types. The white wines were more distinctive, with brighter fruits, freshness from high acidity, steely minerality with a certain salinity, savoury and spicy notes.

White

Veneto, Italy: Soave Classico 2014 Pieropan
Soave’s Paleo soil – a mix of basalt, clay and limestone – gives bright appley fruits, freshness, and savoury notes with a rich full taste.
£13.99, Henderson Wines; Aitken Wines; Valvona & Crolla; Drinkmonger; Lockett Bros; The Wine Society; Laithwaites

Santorini, Greece: Assyrtiko 2014 Hatzidakis - STAR BUY
Santorini’s light porous Aspa soil gives very fragrant, spicy herby notes and persistent spicy length.
£12.50, The Wine Society; £12.99, Waitrose

Campania, Italy: Greco do Tufo 2013 Valdiperti
Green tuff soil gives bright citric fruits, pear-skin flavours and vibrant acidity alongside Campania’s characteristic nuttiness.
£14.95, Caves de Pyrene, www.lescaves.co.uk

Pantelleria, Sicily: Pietra Nera Zibibbo 2013 de Bortoli  - STAR BUY
Pietra Nera is the name of Pantelleria’s black lava soils giving wonderfully intense dry muscats with minerality and steely length.
£26, Caves de Pyrene, www.lescaves.co.uk

Alsace, France: Cuvée Rangen Clos St Urbain Grand Cru Pinot Gris 2013 Zind Humbrecht  - STAR BUY
Alsace’s only volcanic vineyard, with volcanic rock mixed with decomposed sandstone, gives intense aromatic and full-flavoured pinot gris with spicy depth and lingering finish.
£55, WoodWinters, Edinburgh; Berry Bros & Rudd

Red

Côtes du Forez, France: Cuvée Volcanique Gamay 2014 Logel & Verdier
From France’s oldest volcanic area of the Massif Central in Auvergne; gamay grapes grown on grey andesite give a very savoury, sappy, minerally style.
£12, Caves de Pyrene, www.lescaves.co.uk

Tenerife, Canary Islands: 7 Fuentos 2012 Suertes del Marques
This is an earthy, savoury baked blend of listan negro and tintilla grapes grown on basalt.
£14, The Wine Society, www.thewinesociety.com

Sicily, Italy: Etna Rosso 2013 Alberto Graci
Elegant and youthful nerello mascalese gives a rich, silky texture and fine length from high altitude (700m) regosol basalt soils on active Etna.
£12-£18, WoodWinters, Edinburgh; www.italvinus.co.uk; AG Wines; Berry Bros & Rudd

Oregon, USA: Pinot Noir 2013 Domaine Drouhin - STAR BUY 
With red fruits, minerally tones and fine tannins, this is a very elegant pinot from the basalt-based “Jory” soils of the Dundee Hills.
£29, Oddbins

Dessert wine

Santorini, Greece: Vin Santo 2003 Hatzidakis - STAR BUY
From Vin Santo’s original homeland, this has superb dried figgy fruits, and is raisiny and dense; made from assyrtiko grown on Aspa basalt soil.
£19.95 hf bt, Berry Bros & Rudd

Tokay, NE Hungary: Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2009 Royal Tokaji
Honeyed caramel, orange peel, apricots and spice combine to create a delicious fresh, bright, sweet wine from furmint and harslevelu grapes grown on andesite igneous rock. n
£12.29 for 25 cl bt, Waitrose; £21.50 for 50cl bt, Majestic Wine; The Wine Society

• Join Rose’s Taste of Scotland Wine & Food Matching at Abode, Bath Street, Glasgow on Friday, 1 July, £40, www.rosemurraybrown.com

Rose Murray Brown is one of only 323 Masters of Wine worldwide and is the only one to host wine courses and regular wine tastings in Scotland.

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