Italian Wines from Volcanos

Mount Vesuvius Vineyards | Courtesy Vinitaly

Wine does flow from volcanos and this is the first of a series of articles on the where, what and why of these vinous wonders. This journey will take us around the globe. From a historical perspective, there is no better place to start than the still active Mount Vesuvius, which not only buried Pompeii, but has erupted as recently as 1944. Mount Vesuvius and supervolcano Campi Flegrei in Campania bookend Naples and constitute a terroir that has unique soils and climate, which provide the conditions that are the perfect storm for wine grapes that excel only here.

The most famous being Aglianico, a stout, tannic black grape that the artisans here craft into robust and distinct wines. Think black cherries, dry licorice, dusty herbs and mineral streaks that marry so well with a rabbit dish and root vegetables dressed in olive oil and wild herbs. Fuedi di San Gregorio and Mastroberardino are two seminal producers. In the spirit of a public service announcement, I implore you to decant your Aglianico con gusto so as not to miss all that is magical about these vinos.

Campania’s second red is Piedirosso, which refers to the red feet of dogs that romp in the volcanic soils of the vineyards. This grape makes for lighter-bodied reds with high notes of pepper, raspberry and wildflowers. Like a quality Pinot Noir, Piedirosso can dance with everything from red and white meat, to seafood to strongly spiced appetizers.

Anna Chiara Mustilli and her wine art. | Lou Phillips

This mountainous terroir is also prime ground for distinct white wines. Until recently the most popular have been Fiano and Greco di Tufo, crisp wines that also carry some weight on the body and combine tree-fruit notes with a touch of herb. Based on the efforts of the Mustilli family, a new white star has risen from the Falanghina grape. This family operation, now run by sisters Anna Chiara and Paola, have shined a light in this cultivar and made a version full of flowers, Mandarin orange and sweet chive. All of these are wonderful aperitifs, but also make for wonderful course mates for Campania’s amazing fresh seafood and vegetables.

Another Southern Italian volcano that provides exceptional vineyard lands is Mount Etna in Sicily. This island is most known for Nero D’Avola wines, which make lovely quaffs with chocolate-covered-cherry palates. The mountain vineyards here are best known for reds made from Nerello Mascalese, which bring more complexity with their signature mineral backbones that complement refreshing acid, dusky spice and intense dark fruit flavors. As with their Campanian cousins, Nerello Mascaleses love to mingle with Mediterranean food.

I hope this has whet your appetite for wines that flow from volcanos along our wine journey.