When it comes to viticulture and vinification, soil composition is a pretty hot topic. Soils, bedrock, and the components found within them are literally the foundational pieces that build our favorite wines. There’s a reason why certain grapes thrive in different regions around the world, and dirt has a lot to do with it. Coupled with climate, topography, and other geographical conditions, a region’s soil (as crazy as it sounds) plays a huge part in what makes up the essence of its terroir.
Volcanic wines have been getting a lot of buzz lately, and it’s really no surprise why. These wines come from some of the most unique corners of the globe and are hands-down some of the most earth-driven (and delicious) juices to drink. So what exactly classifies a wine as ‘volcanic?’ Simply put: volcanic soils.
Volcanic soils are formed from volcanic material, which encompasses everything from lava to ash and everything in between. The most common components of volcanic soils are black basalt (cooled lava), pumice, and ash. These soils are extremely high in minerals, which keep soils healthy and make them conducive for grape growing. Volcanic soils are also quite alluvial, which means that they provide excellent drainage for the vines. Low water retention allows vines to penetrate deep into the earth, which helps them to pull even more nutrients from deeper-lying bedrock.
This perfect marriage of low water retention and deep roots creates lower-yielding vines, which, in turn, produce lesser amounts of concentrated and higher quality fruit (when farmed responsibly, of course). Quality over quantity has always been a life motto in my book, and this mentality towards viticulture is no exception. This month, I want to take us on a journey through some of my favorite volcanic regions of the world: Yamhill County (Oregon), Etna, the Côte Roannaise, and the Canary Islands.
First up, we’ve got a delicious Chardonnay from Ribbon Ridge, which is the smallest AVA in all of Oregon. Here, volcanic soils and Pacific influences create unique conditions for cultivating soil-driven Chardonnay, most of which is dry-farmed. Brick House has been certified organic since 1990 and has since become certified biodynamic by Demeter, too. I absolutely love the rocky undertones and tangible texture found in this well-balanced bottle. If you’re looking for a Chard to please the masses, this is one of your best bets.
Next, we’re in Mount Etna, Sicily’s most well-known region and undeniably explosive claim to fame. When I think Etna, my brain usually goes straight to reds and whites, but this rosé is a game-changer. I truthfully don’t drink rosé as much as I should, but when I do, I tend to steer towards more savory expressions. This ashy, earth-driven bottle from Graci does the trick every time.
Our first red brings us to one of France’s most underrated areas, the Côte Roannaise. This small yet fierce region is one of just three appellations included in the country’s ‘Loire Volcanique’ association. Located just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Beaujolais, it’s no surprise that Gamay is the grape of choice here. To me, Loire Gamay tends to be lighter, brighter, and a bit more floral-driven than its Beaujolais-based counterparts. Throw a slight chill on the bottle and pop the cork – you’ll see what I mean.
We’re ending this month’s tour in the Canary Islands, which has definitely become one of my favorite regions. This place is beyond captivating. Ashy soils, head-trained vines, and strong ocean breezes lash through the vineyards daily, and indigenous Spanish varieties dominate the plots. If you love Mencía, Cabernet Franc, or other ashy, earth-driven reds, you’re going to love this Listán Negro.
As the weather begins to cool down, I hope that this fire-packed box adds some warmth to your table!
Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier
Brick House Wines Ribbon Ridge Chardonnay
After working for 17 years as a correspondent for CBS, Doug Tunnell returned to his native Oregon and created Brick House Wines. His 12 hectares of vines have been organically farmed for 25 years, and today, the vineyards are also certified biodynamic. This Old World-inspired Chardonnay pays homage to the classic wines of France’s Burgundy region. The juice is vinified in wood (minimal new) and aged on its lees for 12 months, then transferred to tanks for an additional six months of aging in tank prior to being bottled by hand. Yeasty notes of lemon cream, citrus rind, and crushed rocks dominate this wine’s persistent and refreshing palate.
PAIRING IDEAS: This rich yet balanced Chardonnay comes alive when sipped with shellfish, baked salmon, or roasted root vegetables.
Graci Etna Rosato
Although young, winemaker Alberto Aiello Graci is firm in his dedication to cultivating indigenous Sicilian varieties. His vines are planted at soaring altitudes of 1,950 - 3,000+ feet above sea level and are located on the ashy northern slope of Mount Etna. No herbicides are used in the vineyards, and large wooden casks (called tini) are preferred over barrique. This refreshing Etna Rosato is produced entirely from organically-farmed and concrete-vinified Nerello Mascalese. Notes of tart strawberries, cranberries, and dried herbs dominate this copper-hued wine’s acid-driven palate.
PAIRING IDEAS: This thirst-quenching Sicilian rosé is perfect for serving with grilled fish, antipasti spreads (salami, marinated veggies, salty nuts), and of course, Sicilian-inspired eggplant caponata.
Domaine Sérol ‘Éclat De Granite’
Domaine Sérol is located in the Côte Roannaise region of France, which is one of just three appellations that comprise the ‘Loire Volcanique’ association. This unique region of France is situated at the southernmost part of the Loire Valley and is located just 50 kilometers west of Morgon (Beaujolais). Stéphane Sérol and his wife Carine took over his family estate in 1996, and today, the duo farms all of their high-altitude vineyards organically and biodynamically. ‘Éclat De Granit’ is a bright and juicy varietal Gamay loaded with flavors of sour cherries, ripe cranberries, crushed peonies, and white pepper. The wine is 50% whole-cluster fermented with native yeasts and is vinified in cement tanks.
PAIRING IDEAS: The succulent fruit-forwardness and ripping acidity found in this varietal Gamay make it perfect for sipping chilled with charcuterie boards, #TacoTuesday favorites, or happy hour snacks.
Fronton de Oro Tinto ‘Tradicional’
Fronton de Oro was founded in 1977 by D. Antonio Ramírez in the heart of La Lechuza, a small town on the island of Gran Canaria. Here, vines are terraced and cultivated at high elevations in ashy, volcanic soils. This Listán Negro is destemmed, vinified in steel, and aged in used American oak. The wine is rustic, spicy, and loaded with flavors of red cherries, tobacco leaf, smoke, and black pepper.
PAIRING IDEAS: Roasted lamb, meat stews, or black bean burgers would all be insanely delicious pairings with this wine. Light up the grill, prepare your dish of choice, and serve this juice with a slight chill!