6 months ago

CEN HK Q1 2018

Fermented by Fire 76


With an extraordinary minerality all their own, volcanic wines are emerging as a red-hot viticulture subset that, as Jeffrey T Iverson explains, dates back to the days of Ancient Rome and Greece ILLUSTRATION JÖRN KASPUHL icily and its coastal islands draw many S a pleasure seeker, but for the Franco- American geologist Charles Frankel, visiting there in 1981, the only thing on his mind was plate tectonics and volcanism. Sicily’s Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and the Aeolian Islands are a quintessential volcanic archipelago. But those heady days of crater-trekking and research stirred a passion in Frankel for something unexpected – wine terroirs. On these barren, lunar-like volcanic islands and ash-covered slopes, Frankel was intrigued to find vineyards flourishing. And the wines they produced, though rustic and sun-baked, shook him. They were powerful elixirs that brought to mind Homer’s Odysseus, said to have lulled the Cyclops to sleep with an ivy-wood bowl of a sweet dark wine from Mount Etna. Frankel’s initial voyage became the spark behind his 2014 Vins de Feu (Wines of Fire), a pioneering study of volcanic terroirs. Why did Pliny the Elder write with such fervour of the wine from Mount Vesuvius? Why did the Russian tsars fill their cellars with bottles of verdelho do Pico, grown on a volcano in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? If Frankel’s book began as a history of forgotten vineyards, after travelling the globe, it became the story of their renaissance. “When I returned to Etna I was amazed by the jump in wine quality,” he says. “Today, we’re finding winemakers working at higher altitudes, using organic agriculture and creating wines that recall great burgundies, full of earthiness and spice.” Producers from across Europe are descending on the volcano’s cool northern flanks, including Davide Rosso of Barolo’s celebrated estate Giovanni Rosso (giovannirosso. com), who calls Etna Italy’s new “frontier”. In fact, from Sicily to Santorini, from Auvergne to the Azores, newwave producers have reinvested in neglected or abandoned vineyards out of a common belief – that volcanic soils impart bouquets and sensations unlike those of any wine on Earth, a scintillating phenomenon to fire the debate over taste and terroir in general. Restaurants typically don’t categorise wine lists by soil type, so when Yotam Ottolenghi’s London brasserie Nopi introduced a volcanic section not long ago (with wines by Suertes del Marqués [] winery on the Tenerife island volcano El Teide, or the 100% gamay Les Pierres Noires by Jean Maupertuis [+ 33 4737 73184], grown near France’s dormant Puy-de-Dôme) it raised some eyebrows. But the distinction is merited for Georgios Ioannidis, founder of the Paris-based Oenos FPL, which exports volcanic wines from both Santorini and Mount Etna to France, Luxembourg and Japan. “I find it astonishing that the grapevine has survived for millennia on these landscapes so hostile to other plant life, while yielding fruit with flavours so unique,” he says. “There is type of minerality we immediately recognise, a fiery crystallinity, evoking salinity, oyster shell, sea air … it makes these highly complex, gastronomic wines.” But what makes an arid, windswept island like Santorini, covered in pumice deposits up to dozens of metres thick, a winegrowing haven? It took uncommon faith for the Hatzidakis ( family to found their eponymous winery in 1996, a vineyard abandoned since devastating eruptions and an earthquake in the 1950s. Yet today they’ve brought world renown to the island’s indigenous grapes, with Decanter’s Joanna Simon praising Hatzidakis’ white assyrtiko for its “textbook, mouthwatering, smoky-mineral volcanic nose … spicy, citrus-zest acidity and fresh, salt-edged finish”. The secret is indeed in the soil, says Frankel. Despite their harsh appearances, rocky pumice fields and cracked lava flows are in fact ideal for fine winegrowing, being highly porous and permeable, thus draining water away from roots. Volcanic slopes provide unbeatable exposures and altitudes for the slow, cool ripening periods needed to develop complex aromas. And volcanic soils are poor in carbon and nitrates, which cause excessive growth, but rich in all the essential minerals plants need, such as potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and sulphur. At the end of March, Master Sommelier John Szabo, who authored the 2016 Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, will host the inaugural International Volcanic Wines Conference in New York City, where winemakers from across the globe will argue for a common “volcanic wine brand”. But can just a similar type of soil truly instil wines from disparate corners of the Earth with common character? “The fine role of [soil] chemistry in the flavour of wine is very controversial,” says Frankel. “But I contend that there is a volcanic style. It may be subjective, but for me, a volcanic wine is a wine that encapsulates the feeling of an otherworldly place.” It’s the earthy sensation and a whiff of sulphur from good aged Etna reds, and it’s the floral bouquets of a Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio white from Villa Dora winery (cantinevilladora. it), uncanny aromas that evoke what’s often the lone plant blooming atop volcanoes – wild broom. As the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi wrote in his 1836 opus, Canti: “Here on the arid spine of the formidable mountain, destroyer Vesuvius, brightened by no other tree or flower, you scatter round your lonely bushes, fragrant broom.” Leopardi’s poem was a moving reflection on human fate, comparing mankind to this tenacious shrub, perennially rising from the ashes. Yet Leopardi might have chosen the grapevine for his metaphor. For perhaps more stirring than humanity’s instinct to survive, is its enduring capacity to cultivate sustenance, pleasure and beauty, in the most unexpected places. CONTACT CENTURION SERVICE FOR BOOKINGS CENTURION-MAGAZINE.COM 77