This time of year, when most of the wine world starts reaching for rosé, Simi Grewal, a cofounder of DECANTsf, has another suggestion: white wines from volcanic soils. “I was thinking about what I was drinking this week because we had a really warm weekend in San Francisco, which is unusual,” says Grewal. “I was going back to the idea of really textured, smoky, salty whites, and I was like, ‘oh yeah, these are all volcanic.’”
Volcanic soils, such as those found around Mount Etna or Mount Vesuvius, are well draining, not very fertile, and high in mineral content. The resulting wines are often characterized as having a unique, savory minerality. “It’s one of those soils that almost always translates into the wine to some degree,” says Grewal. “I was really amazed when I was drinking the [Colli di Lapio] Fiano. There’s this upfront attack of really rich fruit: bruised apple, quince, kumquat. But then the finish suddenly became Amalfi lemon, grilled lemon, and a little bit flinty and smoky, and I think that’s definitely coming from the soils.”
At her retail shop in San Francisco, which she cofounded with Cara Patricia in 2019, Grewal finds that her customers are intrigued by the volcanic origins of these white wines. “When you tell that to a consumer, when I say volcanic, their eyes light up and they say ‘that’s cool!’” she explains. “I think with volcanic wine, sometimes [tasting notes are] a little bit less subjective because it’s so factual. It is there in the wine. And when a consumer actually can grab onto something tangible like that, they get very excited about it and want to learn more about where it’s coming from.”
For Grewal, these mineral, textural whites are highly versatile, but particularly enjoyable during the warmer months. “Right now, I’m finding them really satisfying and delicious for so many different occasions, whether I’m just sitting in the sun or having a nice meal,” she says.
Selling Points for Volcanic White Wines
- Volcanic soils impart unique flavors to wine, such as smoke and salt, which adds to the wine’s complexity and appeal for professionals and consumers alike.
- The wines’ volcanic origins are intriguing to many consumers. “Once someone tells you it’s being grown on an active volcano, people go searching for it,” says Grewal. “It creates a more layered story, a more layered experience for the consumer.”
- Volcanic white wines are extremely versatile; they work well as an aperitif on a warm day or paired with a variety of different foods.
3 Volcanic White Wines to Watch
- Los Bermejos Malvasía Volcanica Seco 2022, Canary Islands, Spain: “[This wine] is really beautiful,” says Grewal. “It’s got this really full and voluptuous texture, but it’s just really salty and crisp. It gives you a little bit of everything.”
- Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino 2020, Campania, Italy: “It packs a lot of power and punch,” says Grewal. “It has a lot of tropical, honeysuckle, and floral notes, and goes great as a pairing with mushroom risotto.”
- Girolamo Russo ‘Nerina’ Etna Bianco 2021, Sicily, Italy: “It’s a blend of indigenous Sicilian white grapes with some vines in the blend clocking in at over 100 years old,” says Grewal. “The 2021 drinks similarly to premier cru Chablis, and I think it’s one of the most elegant Italian whites out there.”
Caitlin A. Miller is a New York-based wine writer and the current associate editor for SevenFifty Daily. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Vinous, and Christie’s International Real Estate Magazine. She holds the WSET Diploma in Wines and was the recipient of the 2020 Vinous Young Wine Writer Fellowship.