John Szabo’s Buyer’s Guide to Fine Volcanic Wines

by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

There was an explosive wine party in Toronto last Tuesday, ostensibly to celebrate the launch of my latest book, Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power. But really, it was a great excuse to gather five dozen of the best wines grown in volcanic soils around the world for a grand taste-and-buy event. Judging by the crowd, the category has erupted. Here’s a killer volcanic dozen from the tasting to start your collection. The wines below will make you a believer. All are available in consignment; contact the agent for details.

A Killer Volcanic Dozen

White

Argyros 2015 Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece ($23.95) (Kolonaki Group)

Despite a century of history (established in 1903), fourth-generation vintner Mattheos Argyros has his eyes on the future: he has replanted vineyards and is now the largest landowner after the Santo Coop, and completed a new winery this year. Prized parcels of ancient vines, up to 250 years old, yield the outstanding Estate Santorini, while the “young” 50-60 year old vines go into this excellent value pure Assyrtiko, dense, briny and stony.

Haridimos Hatzidakis 2015 Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece ($34.95) (30-50 Imports)

Hatzidakis has another take on the mesmerizing wines of Santorini, making some of the island’s most extreme wines since 1997 from certified organic estate vineyards and additional purchased grapes. Ripeness is pushed further than most, yielding wines of shocking concentration and high alcohol, and all wines are given skin contact, wild ferments, and are bottled unfiltered.

Haridimos Hatzidakis-0109

Haridimos Hatzidakis

Benito Ferrara 2015 Greco di Tufo Single vineyard Cicogna, Campania ($38.95) (Groupe Soleil)

Fourth generation Gabriella Ferrara and husband Sergio Ambrosino farm vineyards high in the hills above Tufo in the hamlet of San Paolo, one of the cru-worthy districts in the Greco di Tufo appellation. Single-vineyard Vigna Cicogna is the pinnacle of production, one of the best in the region with magical harmony.

Sergio Ambrosino, Benito Ferrara, Tufo-1658

Sergio Ambrosino, Benito Ferrara, Tufo

2015 Gilvesy Furmint Unfiltered, Badacsony, Hungary ($24.95) (Nicholas Pearce Wines)

Robert Gilvesy moved from Canada to Hungary in 1994 to start an architectural firm, but after buying an old Esterházy family press house on the southern slopes of Szent György-hegy on the north shore of Lake Balaton, was drawn into the wine business. He formally launched his winery in 2012. This is his first effort with furmint, an impressively concentrated wine wild fermented and aged in large old casks.

Robert Gilvesy-5424

Robert Gilvesy

Terra Costantino deAetna 2014 Etna Bianco, Sicily, Italy ($32.95, 6/cs) (Rogers & Company)

One of the many relatively recent operations set up in Italy’s hottest terroir (and most active volcano), this white from certified organic carricante with 15% catarratto and 5% minnella, grown on the southeast side of the mountain, is pure, crystalline, and precision-cut, aged exclusively in steel.

Prà 2014 Soave Staforte, Veneto, Italy ($41.95, 6/cs) (The Vine Agency)

Graziano Prà was a key early figure in the revival of Soave Classico, repurposing family vineyards for commercial bottled production in 1990. Today, his enviable collection of crus in the Classico zone, mostly basaltic – Monte Grande, Foscarino, Froscà, Monte Croce, Sant’Antoni and Ponsara – give rise to some of Soave’s finest wines. The Staforte bottling gains additional flesh from extended time on the lees in tank, and shows best after a few year in bottle – don’t be afraid to cellar this into the ‘20s.

Red

2014 Eduardo Torres Acosta IGT Terre Siciliane ‘Versante Nord’, Etna, Sicily, Italy ($36.95) (The Living Vine)

This is the first vintage for the young Eduardo Torres, a Canary Islands native. Wines are made at Ariana Occhipinti’s estate outside of the Etna appellation, hence the IGT designation. He follows Occhipinti’s ultra-minimalist winemaking style, and this is the most exciting Etna red I’ve come across since completing my book (he’s too recent to have been included, alas. Cue the second edition). This is from two north facing parcels, up to 700 meters, a field blend of 45-50 year old Nerello Mascalese with 20% other native varieties, including Carricante, wild fermented in cement with about 10% whole cluster and aged 16 months in a 25hl Slavonian oak botte.

Planeta 2014 Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy ($32.95) (Noble Estates)

A venture on the north side of Etna by Sicilian heavyweight Planeta, the latest of six operations on the island. The initial plan was to focus on whites, though potential for reds was soon recognized. This is a classically styled, medium-bodied, crunchy, tart red fruit and smoke tinged red.

Patricia Tóth, Planeta winemaker-7727

Patricia Tóth, Planeta winemaker

2015 Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional, Valle del Orotava, Canary Islands, Spain ($25.95 est.) (The Wine Coaches)

Winemaker/owner Agustín García Farráis, following French schooling and training, took the reins here in the late 90s and has taken the estate to the top level in Tenerife. This is a pure listán negro, the most planted black grape in the Canaries, given a short stretch in wood. Bright acids, wild dark fruit and herbal spice make this particularly appealing.

Augustín Farrais, Tajinaste, Tenerife-2866

Augustín Farrais, Tajinaste, Tenerife

2013 Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato, Campania, Italy ($18.99) (Stem Wine Group)

Antonio Capaldo established Feudi di San Gregorio in 1986 at a time when much of Campania still lay in ruins after the 1980 earthquake. Today, this is one of southern Italy’s largest and most important estates. Rubrato is the entry point into the aglianico range, a relatively fresh and fruity version of this decidedly savoury, sturdy variety.

Pier Paolo Sirch, Vigneto dal Rè, Feudi di San Gregorio-1518

Pier Paolo Sirch, Vigneto dal Rè, Feudi di San Gregorio

Mastroberardino 2011 Taurasi Radici, Campania, Italy ($40.95) (Profile Wine Group)

The grand old wine estate of southern Italy, heavy with history and significance, both creators and defenders of tradition. Mastroberardino was registered in 1878, and Don Piero Mastroberardino is the 10th generation to head wine growing that stretches back to at least 1760 – the year the arches that still support the barrel cellar were constructed. Antonio Mastroberardino made the conscientious decision after World War II to champion Campania’s indigenous varieties in a period when the rest of Italy was industrializing fast and planting more fashionable French grapes. The Radici Black Label is crafted in the upright, stony, fully savoury tradition, best after a decade.

10th generation Piero Mastroberardino

10th generation Piero Mastroberardino

2014 Elena Fucci “Titolo” Aglianico del Vulture DOC, Basilicata, Italy ($58.95) (Le Sommelier)

Elena Fucci has quickly risen to the top ranks in Basilicata, producing one of Vulture’s most compelling wines. Prime terraced vineyards in the heart of Barile include some of Vulture’s oldest (55 to 70 years) and highest elevation plantings, over 600 metres (2000 feet), organically farmed. Fucci produces just one wine, outside of the new DOCG rules (shorter ageing), a towering monument to the mountain and to Aglianico, a deep, sumptuous and expressive wine that takes many years to unravel.

Elena Fucci in her old "vigne a capanno" vines-2123

Elena Fucci in her old “vigne a capanno” vines

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

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John Szabo, MS

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