Volcanic Wines from Mediterranean Islands

Canary Island moonscape vineyard. | Courtesy Wikipedia

Next stop on our worldwide volcanic wine tour are two islands with the most extreme terroir in our travel itinerary. So, put on your adventure goggles and gaze at the extraterrestrial-like landscapes of Santorini and the Canary Islands.

To add even more drama to viticulture in Santorini, the winds are so strong that grape vines must be trained in bird’s nest-like baskets that are sunk into individual foxholes.

Santorini is a volcano-active Greek island located in the Aegean Sea with a wine history going back more than 3,500 years. A major eruption occurred in 1630 B.C. that created its dramatic caldera and covered the island in ash and pumice more than 150 feet deep. Yep, the same pumice that makes those abrasive hand soaps so effective is one of the keys to great wine from Santorini. It acts like a sponge and holds rainwater, slowly releasing it throughout the growing season.

Explore other volcanic wine regions:
The South of France
Napa Valley
Italy

This is important because the climate is extremely dry; to add even more drama to viticulture here, the winds are so strong that grape vines must be trained in bird’s nest-like baskets called kakthia that are sunk into individual foxholes.

The vines struggle, to say the least, which makes for fruit with intense concentrations of flavor molecules. The main grape varieties are three aromatic and spicy soul sisters: Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri. These are crafted into whites that range from dry to sweet, with the latter being the most revered.

Santorini basket vine. | Courtesy Wikipedia

Now, off to Spain and the Canary Islands where we encounter even more dramatic black moonscape vineyards. This region boasts a wine history going back at least several hundred years. The wines were once the objects of desire of William Shakespeare, Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson.

While this region escaped phylloxera, which devastated most of the rest of the wine world, the humid maritime climate invited mildew diseases before the technology to ward them off existed.

By the time there were solutions for these problems, the Canary Islands and their wines had fallen off the world’s radar. It has only been a few decades since it has been rediscovered. The islands of Tenerife and Lanzarote are the centers for wine production.

The terraced vineyards cling to steep hillsides and are cooled by Atlantic trade winds, which help resist mildew and maintain refreshing acidity in the fruit. Pleasant whites and sparkling wines are made from the Malvasia and the indigenous Marmajuelo grapes. The islands’ main production is in red wines headed by Listán Negro, which is makes bold fruit-forward quaffs with complex, pleasant, herbaceous notes. On the firmer side are wines made from Baboso Negro, which make for intense, structured vinos full of dark plums and berries and is considered the islands’ up and comer.

Wines from both islands are rarely seen outside of wine superstores but are worth the effort for the wine adventurous.