Mount Vesuvius is Italy’s, and one of the world’s, most famous volcanoes, a 1281 metre (4203 foot) stratovolcano that dominates the horizon from every angle in the Bay of Naples just east of the city. It’s young in geological terms, some 25,000 years old. There are in fact two separate summits, so properly speaking, the mountain is referred to as the Somma-Vesuvio volcanic complex.
Vesuvius is comforting in that it follows a fairly predictable pattern of eruptions. A typical cycle includes a major Plinian eruption, as in 79 AD, 472 aAD and 1631 AD, with smaller scale, mostly effusive, activity in between, most recently in 1906 and 1944. Volcanologists thus predict the next major eruption will ‘probably’ happen sometime in the next 500 years, earning Vesuvius the title of the world’s most dangerous volcano thanks to the three million people living nearby – the most densely populated volcanic region in the world – and its reliable tendency to erupt violently.
Vesuvio DOC and its Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco / Rosso sub-categories are the most important appellations, produced on all sides of the Somma-Vesuvio volcanic complex. The mostly north-facing slopes of Monte Somma have generally older, and much finer, sandy, phylloxera-free volcanic soils, almost like talcum powder. The weather is marginally cooler and wetter than on the south side, which in tandem all yield more refined, fresher, lighter wines, including the speciality Catalanesca del Monte Somma IGT.
On the southern side of Vesuvius the Mediterranean is in full charge: the sun is that much sharper, the thermometre is nudged up a couple of degrees and less rain falls. Add in the unweathered lapilli and pumice of the 79 AD eruption, (yesterday, geologically) that peppers the soil, with little clay or organic matter, and the same varieties are expressed more forcefully.
Lacryma Christi Bianco is a blend of at least one-third of Caprettone or Coda di Volpe; Greco and/or Falanghina can account for up to 20%. Lacryma Rosso blends at least half Piedirosso (here called Palummina), with Sciascinoso up to 30%, and Aglianico up to 20%. Both the reds and whites of Vesuvio are wines to drink young and fresh, the reds also with a light chill.