Volcanic Wine Awards: Europe & the Mediterranean - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Volcanic Wine Awards: Europe & the Mediterranean

Volcanic Wines International and Wine & Spirits Magazine are pleased to announce the winners of the First Annual Volcanic Wine Awards. In this report, we are sharing the results for the volcanic wines of Europe and the Mediterranean.

Of all the regions represented in the tasting, the Azores delivered some of most easily recognizable volcanic whites. The best of them displayed an unmistakable salinity, grit and stoniness. These remarkable wines grow in the uniform and utterly unforgiving basaltic soils (as in, rock) that make up the archipelago, especially Pico Island. They are the work of a small, tight-knit industry with just a handful of key players.

The Greek isle of Santorini, long lauded for its inimitable volcanic expressions, searing, saline, and decidedly un-fruity, did not disappoint. Despite the limited number of entries, the island still managed to bring home a Chairman’s award and two golds.

Given my own roots in Hungary, I would like to have seen more Hungarian wines in the competition, as the small handful of dry and sweet whites from Tokaj performed admirably, with a gold and a chairman’s award to show for it. —JS

Chairman's Award             Zind-Humbrecht     $135     Zind-Humbrecht 2021 Alsace Grand Cru . Gewurztraminer
Put aside your preconceptions of gewurztraminer and consider how the variety provides a tool to bring out the terroir in this wine. Joshua Greene found it delicious and fascinating, with a beautiful sculptural quality to the texture. John Szabo MS asserted that "you could not get any more volcanic or gewurzrtraminer," that the wine unified their savor in the maximum expression of volcanic soil and variety. —JS Kobrand, Purchase, NY

Silver             Zind-Humbrecht     $115     Zind-Humbrecht 2019 Alsace Grand Cru Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain Pinot Gris
Concentrated and intense, this wine's pear-jam flavors turn toward elegant minerality in the finish. For now, the rich, opulent vinosity gets in the way of the wine’s precision, with the volume turned up high. John Szabo MS believed the intensity to be intentional—"its concentration is off the charts." —JS Kobrand, Purchase, NY

Gold             Zind-Humbrecht     $115     Zind-Humbrecht 2019 Alsace Grand Cru Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain Riesling
The panel awarded this wine a unanimous gold medal, calling out its density as well as its precision. "This smells so glorious," said John Szabo MS, while Corey Warren found the structure filled with mouthwatering pear, lemon and chestnut favors—or what Tara Q. Thomas described as "green walnut—it's super salty and delicious." —JS Kobrand, Purchase, NY
Gold             Dr. Loosen     $105     Dr. Loosen 2017 Mosel GG Réserve n Urziger Würzgarte Riesling
Decant this wine and the dried flower scent evolves into a youthful impression of spring in a mountain meadow. Mary Gorman MW found the wine briny and a little skinny, but appreciated the purity of the fruit. With enough air, lime blossom scents emerge, and the wine only seems younger. —CW Loosen Bros. USA, Oregon City, OR

Gold             Markus Molitor     $44     Markus Molitor 2021 Mosel Kabinett Gold Capsule ** Urziger Würzgarten Riesling
Along with the brightness and verve Tara Q. Thomas picked up from this cooler vintage, she also found a wild, untamed side to this riesling. John Szabo MS echoed that, calling the wine out as a "classic wild-ferment Mosel." It evolves in the glass, a dry Kabinett focused on mineral notes, with pithy lemon flavors coming up underneath. —CW Banville Wine Merchants, NY

Silver             Dr. Loosen     $28     Dr. Loosen 2022 Mosel Kabinett Urziger Würzgarten Riesling
It takes time for this wine to reveal itself, integrating its ripeness and acidity with air. Tara Q. Thomas said she went back to the wine several times and grew increasingly more impressed by the way it had handled the 2022 season. "It's a warm vintage," she noted, "and if it's volcanic soils, it's a warm site." Mary Gorman MW echoed Thomas's observations. "It's a little ripe and disjointed," she said, "but it turns toward delicacy—a lacy, fine-boned riesling with some energy in the nose." —CW Loosen Bros. USA, Oregon City, OR

Silver             Dr. Loosen     $34     Dr. Loosen 2022 Mosel Spätlese Urziger Würzgarten Riesling
While some panelists found a little simple, focused on floral notes of lemon and the sweet ripeness of 2022, John Szabo MS believed complexity will come to the wine with time. "It's barely out of the gates," he said. "Not very harmonious at the moment, but its concentration of flavors gives me hope for the future.” Tara Q. Thomas compared the scent to wild angelica, appreciating this riesling’s balance between sweetness and saline minerality. And Mary Gorman MW was impressed by the length of flavor. She found that "the wine hangs on a line of acidity and the flavors really last." —CW Loosen Bros. USA, Oregon City, OR

Silver             Gut Hermannsberg     $93     Gut Hermannsberg 2015 Nahe Kupfergrube Riesling
This wine's richness led some tasters to find it soft and warm, though still zingy enough to warrant a silver medal. Tara Q. Thomas went further, finding impressive freshness for the 2015 vintage, along with a pear-skin grip to assuage the richness. "There's a panoply of mineral flavors that come to mind as colors," she said, describing the synesthesia the wine induced. "You can see those crazy mineral streams in the Nahe." —CW Wunderwein, Maplewood, NJ

Silver             Bassermann-Jordan     $103     Bassermann-Jordan 2017 Pfalz GG Forster Jesuitengarten Riesling
Depending on whom you ask, this wine has no fruit, or it has pineapple intensity. Either way, it's more about structure, at first appearing as if the effort to get the wine bone dry had left it feeling mean. Give it time and the fruit comes up with air, along with smoke and salt. Mary Gorman MW was impressed by the purity of the yellow fruit that evolved, and by the ripe energy in the wine. —CW Banville Wine Merchants, NY

Gold             Franz Keller     $99     Franz Keller 2021 Baden Oberrotweiler Eichberg Pinot Noir
A Baden beauty from Franz Keller's estate on the Kaiserstuhl, the volcano that climaxed and ended the volcanic activity in the Upper Rhine Valley. This has an ashy volcanic minerality to balance all of its black cherry fruit. Both Tara Q. Thomas and Mary Gorman MW responded to the wine's purity given its considerable size, big, brooding but not overpowering. Gorman pointed to its freshness, grip and tannic chew, suggesting the wine offered a lot of flexibility—"people who like cabernet would like this wine, too." —CW Delicato Family Wines, Napa, CA
Chairman's Award             Gai'a     Gai'a 2022 Santorini Wild Ferment Assyrtiko
"Sun and chalk and citrus" combined in this Santorini for Tara Q. Thomas, who found the richness of texture and depth of flavor mouthwatering. John Szabo MS felt like he "had to excavate volcanic ash to get a drop of fruit out of the wine," though, a day later, tasted for the Chairman's award, he was impressed by the way the wine blended the prettiness of assytiko with Santorini qualities. For Mary Gorman MW, there was "a shot of energy on the palate that just hits, its exotic citrus tightly wound around spicy, salty ash." And Joshua Greene described how "the volcanic edginess makes me want to drink the wine—it draws me in. It’s delicious." —CW Winebow Imports, NY

Gold             Gai'a     Gai'a 2022 Santorini Ammonite Assyrtiko
Both Tara Q. Thomas and John Szabo MS commented on how this wine came across as so distinctly Santorini. "It's not fooling around," said Thomas—"all about earth flavors, smoky lemon with a bit of reduction. Unforgiving Santorini." Mary Gorman described the flavors as Mirabelle plums, flinty smoke and salinity," delivered with taut exuberance. —CW Winebow Imports, NY

Gold             Gai'a     Gai'a 2020 Santorini Nychteri Assyrtiko
There's a mineral buzz to this wine's golden fruit, a Nychteri made to age. The style was originally based on night-harvested grapes sent immediately to press; now, it tends to be a selection of ripe Santorini with relatively high potential alcohol, aged in oak. Tara Q. Thomas felt it was not old enough to show its best. "There's so much wine here—salty and fruity, in a preserved lemon way." Then caramel comes up, the oak augmenting the wine's structure for aging. John Szabo MS called out the wine as "riveting—smoky and stony," benefitting from the extreme growing conditions of Santorini with "happy stress." —CW Winebow Imports, NY

HM             Gai'a     $45     Gai'a 2022 Santorini Thalassitis Katzrin
Thin and a little bitter upfront, this feels properly ripe in the finish. It's a simple, floral white without much connecting it to Santorini. —CW Winebow Imports, NY
Gold             Mád Moser     $60     Mád Moser 2021 Tokaj MM55 Dry Furmint
Let the sulfur blow off and, underneath it, there's classic furmint pear and pear-drop flavors, scents of resinous herbs, and a minty, spearmint freshness. It's still tight after decanting, with a persistent sulfur note that comes across as natural—not added, but soil derived. The wine has fine weight and a little phenolic drag lending chewy substance and impressive length. Check on it after 2025—this needs time to unfurl. Josh Greene found that the fruit keeps expanding, showing the depth and layering of a grand cru wine. —JS Massanois Imports, NY

Silver             Mád Moser     $30     Mád Moser 2021 Tokaj MM5 Dry Furmint
This needs aeration to reveal a firm, phenolic edge in a texture with good chew. It delivers classic white-fleshed orchard fruit—pears and apples—with a lemon-lime zing. Good volcanic presence. Mary Gorman MW appreciated the crescendo on the mid-palate, noting the wine's lean style. —JS Massanois Imports, NY

Chairman's Award             Royal Tokaji     $147     Royal Tokaji 2017 Tokaji 6 Puttonyos Nyulaszo
2017 was a lovely year for botrytis in the Tokaj region, and the purity and cleanliness comes through is this exemplary wine, so perfumed and concentrated—peach-and-apricot-driven, saffron-and-exotic-spice-inflected. There’s rich sweetness up front, then saliva-inducing citric acids sweep the finish clean, almost dry. Amazing how the wine can carry more than 200 grams of sugar so weightlessly. —JS Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA
HM             Golan Heights     $25     Golan Heights 2023 Galilee Yarden Sauvignon Blanc
This is a lean, simple sauvignon with lemon-curd richness and touches of green in the background. —CW Yarden, NY

Bronze             Golan Heights     $45     Golan Heights 2020 Galilee Yarden 2T
This is a blend of touriga nacional and tinta cão, varieties that thrive in the dry heat of the Douro Valley. In Galilee, they gave a wine that, for Mary Gorman MW, carries a sense of place, defined by chewy tannins with a mineral edge. The herbal notes added interest for other panelists. —CW Yarden, NY
Chairman's Award             Azores Wine Co.     $475     Azores Wine Co. 2020 Azores Vinha dos Utras Arinto dos Açores
A medium-deep gold color introduces this wine, parallel to the scent, touched by the stylish reduction of a great white Burgundy (if Burgundy were volcanic!). Pear, lemon and green apple flavors stream out of the glass, all in the cool climate spectrum. A wine of impeccable balance, there in its length and depth. "Astonishing in the grace of its power and length of flavor," said Josh Greene—"I go to the Azores." And Mary Gorman concurred, finding it "chiseled and energetic." The panelists all agreed on superlatives, from "gorgeous" to "fabulous" and "top-notch stuff" (they did not know the price or the wine’s rarity). António Maçanita makes this wine from a parcel planted close to the sea, vines given to the Azores Wine Company by the descendants of Joss Hurtere, the Flemish Captain of Pico and Fayal who arrived at the islands in 1465. —JS Olé & Obrigado, New Rochelle, NY; M.S. Walker, Norwood, MA

Gold             Azores Wine Co.     $175     Azores Wine Co. 2021 Azores Vinha Centenária
This develops beautifully in the glass, moving from scents of lemon yoghurt, old wood and lees toward a lovely volcanic wine. The coast comes up, with panelists noting oyster shell and scallop muscle in layers of concentrated flavor. Jhonel Faelnar described that concentration as an "amazing old-vine texture." A wine with stamina, it needs decanting to show its best. —JS Olé & Obrigado, New Rochelle, NY; M.S. Walker, Norwood, MA

Gold             Eruptio     $40     Eruptio 2021 Pico Arinto dos Açores
Gentle scents of pear and citrus highlight this wine's lovely aromatics, along with plenty of stones and wild herbs. It's a flinty, reductive wine with tension and verve—very volcanic. Jhonel Faelnar enjoyed the wine's light bitterness—"It felt like the Azores." —JS M.S. Walker, Somerville, MA

Silver             Azores Wine Co.     $60     Azores Wine Co. 2022 Azores Arinto dos Açores
Volatile scents of bruised apple carry through to a wine with sour fruit, not squeaky clean, but with underlying substance. "I love the raciness," said Mary Gorman, MW. "It's brisk and oceanic." —JS Olé & Obrigado, New Rochelle, NY; M.S. Walker, Norwood, MA

Silver             Eruptio     $40     Eruptio 2021 Pico Verdelho
Stony, salty and sulfury in the volcanic style, this evolves from struck match and flint toward citric fruit and salted herbs. Josh Greene found the wine needed decanting and after tossing it back and forth between two glasses, he found it delicious, supple and volcanic, with an extraordinary finish, "like swallowing the sea." —JS M.S. Walker, Somerville, MA

Bronze             Eruptio     $37     Eruptio 2021 Pico
A clean wine of moderate intensity, this wine's tart acids balance its modest substance, with the simple almond richness of alcohol. Mary Gorman MW appreciated the ripe succulence and juiciness in the middle. —JS M.S. Walker, Somerville, MA
Gold             Blandy's     $129     Blandy's 2010 Madeira Sercial Colheita
This wine's classic scent blends notes of salt-water taffy, caramel, roasted nuts, dark chocolate and blonde roast coffee in a complex expression, timeless, lovely. The palate is almost dry, while searing acids bring it to a fully dry in a citric finish. The flavors are equally searing—intense, incisive, everlasting. Not an easy or gentle wine by any means, but one of strong character and personality. —JS Premium Ports & Madeiras, San Francisco, CA

Silver             Blandy's     $129     Blandy's 2010 Madeira Bual Colheita
Burnished and mature, this wine's flavors of dried fruits and golden raisins gain complexity from notes of blond tobacco and cookie dough. It feels dry despite considerable residual sugar; and it feels complete with an earthy, wet hay-inflected, long finish. While a bit of heat emerges, this is terrific stuff in the end. —JS Premium Ports & Madeiras, San Francisco, CA

Silver             Blandy's     $129     Blandy's 2010 Madeira Verdelho Colheita
A gentle and genteel expression of verdelho, this is shy in its almond and marzipan aromatics, then its flavorsome and nutty with great length. The wine's high acidity is balanced and neutralized by moderate residual sugar. Mary Gorman MW found briny fruit and air-dried meat scents, the alcohol beautifully integrated —JS Premium Ports & Madeiras, San Francisco, CA

Bronze             Blandy's     $129     Blandy's 2010 Madeira Malmsey Colheita
Smoky, burnished and well balanced, this is a little mean on the finish for a malmsey, where Jhonel Faelnar found a medicinal note. It delivers sugar and complexity in equal measure. —JS Premium Ports & Madeiras, San Francisco, CA
Gold             Suertes del Marques     Suertes del Marqués 2020 Tenerife Vidonia V.P. Listán Blanco
There's pronounced and strong island-volcanic-Atlantic minerality in this first edition of Vidonia V.P., a selection from estate vines with more than 100 years in the ground. Jonatan García Lima ages the wine in 500-liter Stockinger barrels and the oak is little more than a grace note, lending structure to the saltiness in the scent and stoniness on the palate. The wine is nicely reductive, properly flinty before it reveals lovely depth and great length in a terrific wine, full stop. Josh Greene found impressive density, the wine shifting from an earthy scent toward bold, juicy peach and apricot flavors with air. Jhonel Faelnar pronounced it "typical of the islands and delicious through and through." —JS Polaner, Mt. Kisco, NY

Silver             Envinate     Envínate 2022 Tenerife Parcela Margalagua
This pale red is floral and light enough to serve chilled. Envínate partner Roberto Santana harvests this fruit from parcels of ancient mixed vines in the red basalt soils of Margalagua, overlooking the ocean on Tenerife's northeastern cliffs. He foot treads whole bunches, allowing the juice to ferment without any additions, then ages it in neutral French oak barrels. The 2022 is lightly cloudy with lovely oxidative notes, hints of potpourri and dried hibiscus. It provided Mary Gorman MW with "an umbilical cord to volcanic soil, understated and pristine." She appreciated the balance of the wine, describing it as "Brooklyn wine bar meets classic restaurant selection." —JS Jose Pastor Selections/Vinos and Gourmet, Richmond, CA

Silver             Suertes del Marques     Suertes del Marqués 2021 Valle de la Orotava 7 Fuentes Listán Negro
Notably, but properly reductive, giving a scent like fresh cracked black pepper, this is a highly recognizable style, representative of the north side of Tenerife. Some of the panelists found a metallic edge or a natty funk around the fruit, but also found that it worked. I love the fresh-cut resinous herbs, fresh-cut grass, the countryside of it all, also the old-vine density without heaviness. The acids are bright and tannins are light. An excellent introduction to Tenerife and listán negro. —JS Polaner, Mt. Kisco, NY

Corey Warren is the Tastings Editor in addition to covering the wines of the Loire, Southern France, Argentina and South Africa.

John Szabo MS is the Toronto-based author of Volcanic Wines (Jacqui Small Publishing 2016), co-founder of Volcanic Wines International, and partner and principal critic at WineAlign.com. He’s also part-time grapegrower on the limestones of Prince Edward County, Ontario.

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