It was an association of ideas that led me from thoughts of the delicious, distinctive whiff of autumn bonfires to those of wines tinged with a certain smoky something that comes from growing in volcanic soils.
I’m drawn to these wines, and they seem very suited to this time of year. Wine regions as diverse as the sultry islands of Santorini, Tenerife and Sicily, the cool sweeps of Pfalz, Soave and Alsace, as well as the Napa Valley, Hungary, New Zealand’s North Island and others share geological roots in volcanic activity which is reflected in the soils in which their vines grow.
Although these wines vary hugely in style – volcanic soils are all different – they all have characteristics that excite many people and currently seem to be carving a niche of their own. There are often smoky, almost sulphurous aromas along with complex, savoury fruits and a notable stoney, almost chalky texture that really gives you something to get your teeth into. “Like licking a pumice stone, in a very good way” read my recent note on an astonishing white wine from Tenerife.
Volcanic soils are often lacking in the rich organic matter usually associated with fertility, but they contain an abundance of minerals while the porous rocks below hold both air and water, keeping vines hydrated and healthy. There’s no scientific explanation as to how these insoluble minerals directly impact the juice in the grape, but there’s an indisputable verve to volcanic wines.
Dobogó, Furmint 2014 (£14.99, Wholefoods). This fantastically lusty wine is made in Hungary’s Tokaji region, most famous for its spectacular sweet wines. Crunchy and deeply satisfying with quince-like fruit, it would stand up brilliantly to this braised chicken with hazelnut and chilli paste recipe.
Emil Bauer, Sex, Drugs & Rock’n Roll 2015, (£14.99, Adnams (Suffolk, various shops), Park & Bridge (London), Luvians Bottle Shop (St Andrews & Cupar), The Bottle Shop (Cardiff), Loki Wine Merchant & Tasting House (Birmingham) or from redsquirrelwine.com). A modern, dry riesling that zips along the tongue with the piercing panache one expects from the Pfalz. Pair it with our recipe for leeks vinaigrette.
Blandy’s Alvada 5-Year-Old Rich Madeira 50cl (£12.99, Waitrose) The island of Madeira is the only place in the world where bananas and vines grow happily side-by-side. A blend of bual and malvasia grapes, this makes a brilliant fireside snifter; rich and comforting with a little hint of curry. Try it alongside cheese or our sloe gin and plum crumble.
Co-operative Truly Irresistible Grecula 2014 (£6.99). Grecula is the local name for the ancient greco grape, indigenous to this part of southern Italy which is within spitting distance of Mount Vesuvius. Lively and fresh with luscious, peachy fruit, its label will make it a hit at any Halloween party, too.
Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2017 by Hugh Johnson (published by Mitchell Beazley, £11.99, octopusbooks.co.uk). The world’s bestselling wine book has been updated for its 40th anniversary and packs an extraordinary amount of at-a-glance information into a sleek, nifty volume that lists grapes, makers and technical insight country-by-country and should be up every wine lover’s sleeve.