Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Nov 26th, 2016

Top VINTAGES Buys & Fine Volcanic Wines
by John Szabo, with notes from David Lawrason

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. Read on for my Coles Notes on what makes these wines special, or for the full report, buy the LP version. I also pick a killer volcanic dozen from the tasting in consignment now to start your collection. November 26th is a massive 160+ product VINTAGES release on the theme of “Our Finest”. Such a number exceeds my daily tasting tolerance, so I sifted carefully and came up with five smart whites and reds worth a look, in a couple of cases aligning with the picks of Sara and Michael last week. David Lawrason adds his five favourites to round out the list.

The Mystery of Volcanic Wines Revealed (Well, sort of)

Although volcanic soils account for only about 1% of the world’s land surface, grapes occupy a disproportionate share. So what’s the secret? Volcanic soils, it turns out, have some useful properties that make them especially well suited for high quality, distinctive wine.

For one, young volcanic “soils” formed on recent lavas are often more rock than soil – they haven’t had time to weather into water-retentive clays – and thus hold very little moisture. It’s well established that less water favours higher grape quality. Soils derived from volcanic ash and sand likewise drain like sieves, and by the very nature of where they form, volcanic soils are almost always on hillsides where water drains offs, further reducing water availability.

Paradoxically, despite their reputation, volcanic soils, at least the best ones for wine growing, are relatively infertile. Though lavas have generous amounts of the major macro and micronutrients required by plants, they’re not readily available to root systems. They must first be weathered into an available form, and then made soluble in water to be taken up by roots. But water, as we’ve just seen, is not often available, and minimally weathered soils/rocks are not ready to give up their nutrients in any case.

Vineyards, southern Santorini

Vineyards, southern Santorini

In the end, vines get a broad diet, but in small quantities (low fertility but without particular deficiencies), which triggers them to focus on ripening fruit rather than growing shoots and leaves. Semi-parched, semi-starved vines produce less fruit, smaller bunches, thicker grape skins (where most aromas and flavours are stored), and result in more concentrated, structured and age worthy wines with a broad range of flavours.

Wine styles vary, naturally, given the wide range of grape varieties and climates, as well as the precise chemical-physical makeup of soils found around the world, not to mention the human factor. But some recurring features temptingly link volcanic wines. For one, they hinge on a common mouth-watering quality, sometimes from high acids, almost always from palpable saltiness, sometimes both. They’re often more savoury than fruity, and magnificently “mineral”, a useful, multi-dimensional term that covers a myriad of sensations reminiscent of rocks. They seem to have another dimension, a sort of density that can only come from genuine extract in the wine. It’s a sort of weightless gravity, intense, heavy as a feather, firm but transparent, like an impenetrable, invisible force shield of flavor. They can be gritty, salty, hard, maybe even unpleasant to some, but unmistakable. I’ve posted a list of a dozen wines that will make you a believer. Jump to the Volcanic Wine list here, or read on as David and I unearth the top picks from the VINTAGES release.

Top picks from the November 26th VINTAGES release:

Our latest VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide selections are only visible to our Paid subscribers. Non-paying members will see the recommendations 30 days after publication. Non-paying members now have access to our New Releases to discover the best of recent VINTAGES releases still in stock. We have implemented changes around our VINTAGES content including a reduction in our annual Premium Membership rate.

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“For the cost of a good bottle of wine we’ll help you discover hundreds of great ones.”

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






John Szabo, MS

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 26th – Splurge-Worthy and Value Finds

Use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
All November 26th Reviews

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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