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Rocks & Fire
The book quite literally made me angry.
You see, I had such high hopes for it. I love reading about wine, and I really love reading about wine geology. A book titled Vineyards, Rocks, and Soils seemed tailor made. So I bought it, threw it in my carry-on for t Sicily, and waded into Jurassic, moraine, alluvial, igneous, obsidian, and more.
It’s not a fluffy read. Alex Maltman discusses soil origin, composition, decomposition, sub-strata, age, drainage, and much, much more. He goes into great, excruciating detail about all of the above. Then-273 pages later-he concludes that he really can’t conclude much about what soil composition contributes to the taste of wine. I’m sorry-WHAT?!!
I’m paraphrasing and generalizing, but still. Soil does not substantially affect taste? Tell that to the monks who identified the best vineyards of Chablis in the Middle Ages, long before we knew that only the Grands and Premier Crus were planted in pure Kimmeridgean limestone. Or the vignerons of Champagne, who turn chalk and limestone into ethereal bubbles. Or the monks-there are a lot of monks in wine history- who planted Pinot Noir on Burgundian marl, creating a marriage of soil and vine for the ages. Or a thousand other examples. To steal the motto of Oregon’s Willakenzie Estate, ‘Dirt Matters’.
Lately, I’ve been particularly taken with wines grown on volcanic soils. There are more volcanic wine regions than you might realize. For example: Tasmania, Hungary, parts of the Languedoc, Santorini, Soave, and large parts of California, as well as the more-familiar Etna and Vesuvius. Each of these regions is producing wines which, although made with different grapes and by different methods, share a common spiciness (red) or minerality (white). How does the rather frightening geology of molten rocks turn into these delicious wines? It’s fascinating.
In Sicily, I had the good fortune to watch Stromboli erupt. I had the further good fortune to taste the wines of Tenuta di Castellaro on Lipari, a tiny island with no less than ten extinct volcanoes. We tried two reds and two whites, one of each pair grown on volcanic soils and the other on ‘regular’ sedimentary soils. The difference was not just noticeable; it was profound. The volcanic wines were more complex, more layered….just more, period.
If you’d like to check this out for yourself-and trust me, you should- stop by the store this Saturday for our Volcanic Wine Tasting. We’re pouring over two dozen amazing examples of volcanic wines, from Willamette to Soave and Lake County to Santorini. They’re some of the most interesting wines we carry, an incredible fusion of flavor, rocks, and fire.