Somlo - Hungary
Somló (pronounced Shomloh) is one of the smallest Hungarian wine appellations and one of the few pure volcanic wine regions in the world. The full appellation consists of 3 volcanic cones (Somló, Kis-Somló and Ság) but the most compelling centerpiece is the Somló hill itself at 432 meters high. Rising from the flatlands of the former Pannonian sea, it looms over the landscape. Nicknamed Witness Mountain or 'the hat', it has been a sought after site for grape growing for centuries, producing long lived wines of pronounced acidity.
Somló's basalt retains the warmth of day making for even ripening of the grapes as the black rock radiates heat back into the vines at night. All but 7 hectares of the appellation are planted to white varieties such as Juhfark (grown only in Somló), Furmint and Olaszrizling. These wines have a unique minerality and crunchy purity that and are high in acid in their youth but grow rounder and weightier as they age. They are entirely beguiling.
Historians document Somló wines as being sought after for their healing and beneficial qualities. Once dubbed wedding night wine, myth suggested that drinking a bottle of Somló wine on your wedding night would ensure a male heir. Even Queen Victoria was said to have been a devotee.
The vineyards cover almost every stitch of Somló hill, a patchwork of vines tended by hundreds of farmers though very few of them produce commercial wine. Even through the nationalization of most of Hungary's wineries and the state dictated varieties of Hungarian grapes, Somló retained not only its traditional indigenous grapes but also remained in the hands of many small vineyard owners. In the last 15 years with the reopening of Hungary to the West, many of these small winemakers are garnering attention and fostering a sense of rebirth.
Rebirth, however, often means a return to ancient winemaking techniques, an embrace of natural winemaking, minimal intervention and organic farming. There is discussion of the entire appellation converting to organic viticulture. Part of the reason this move to organics is possible is the constant breeze on the hillside which makes organic farming easier, the fact that the vineyards were not overrun by the state and industrial cooperatives, and of course the soil. High up on the hill it is mostly pure basalt sometimes with little or no topsoil. On the lower part of the hill there are basalt pebbles, eroded over time and mixed with loess (wind blown silt) cut through with exposed licks of basalt and basaltic columns. These volcanic soils impart a stony minerality and a smoky, dusky quality to the sun ripened fruit that tends to natural high acidity. A combination that makes for fantastic long lived wines of sheer mouth filling thought provoking complexity.