When volcanic eruptions in Iceland shut down Europe’s airspace in the spring of 2010, some friends of mine had the dubious “misfortune” of being stranded on a wine trip to Italy. They headed down to Sicily to make the most of it, where they spent a week or so exploring the wines made on another famous volcano: Mount Etna.
Upon their eventual return to New York City they were full of infectious enthusiasm for the remarkable complexity of the wines from that volcanic soil. Today they are far from alone; this passion has spread throughout the country although these wines remain difficult to obtain. The grape varieties grown on this mountain are found nowhere else, and the vineyards that produce them tower three thousand feet above sea level. There is a romance to Etna that oenophiles travel the world in search of yet rarely encounter.
But Etna is neither Italy’s only volcano nor its most infamous; Mount Vesuvius wins that prize. When it erupted in 79 AD, killing 16,000 people and preserving Pompeii and Herculaneum, its vines – which had been there since Etruscan times – were also destroyed. Luckily for us the new sediment only added more minerality to soil that continues to see grape cultivation to this day.
To properly showcase the volcanic rocks and minerals that distinguish these wines, I’ve recruited one of the big guns of wine and food pairing: my old sommelier buddy Steve Morgan. After years working in some of New York’s greatest restaurants – including Del Posto and The Tribeca Grill – Steve is now part of the wine team at Alinea in Chicago, where pairing is religion. These are some of his favorite wines as well as my own, and he provided captivating tasting notes along with the culinary advice. Once again, the food service onboard Le Metro comes with quite a pedigree. Enjoy!
Aaron Epstein, Curator