Next Big Thing ... Amphora wines
Amphora Style… used today to mature wines without the influence of oak. Is it a gimmick, celebration of ancient times or does it provide characteristics to the wine? The Greeks and later the Romans used clay amphoras (aka plural amphorae) to age and store their wine; mostly from necessity of needing a water tight container since wood barrels had more evaporation. Wood barrels are notated in history as far back as 3500 BC, but amphoras appear further back in history and appear to have been more readily used. We don’t know if that is because pottery shards and full amphoras have withstood time where barrels have deteriorated over time.
Until I had an unusually old amphora style Sivi Pinot did I start thinking much about this. Six years prior my husband and I shared a beautiful amphora style Merlot that was amazingly soft in tannins and it turned to liquorice in your glass. Okay, it was evening and we were sitting in the basement of a castle on the Slovenian/ Italian border with a raging thunderstorm outside, which we were oblivious of down in the dungeon, but really this Merlot was amazing! Fermented in French oak barrels (which limits the oak influence) then matured in 7 foot clay amphoras. The fruit was dark and ripe as the full body liquid rolled around in your mouth, alcohol was low so no alcohol hot or sharp taste that happens with hotter climate reds, a bit of baking spices and earth from the oak fermentation, tannins were velvety and the finish was soft black liquorice. Wow!
Fast forward 6 years and we’re now sitting in the actual winemakers tasting room drinking a 2006 amphora matured Sivi Pinot (aka Pinot Gris). Aged Sivi Pinot? I’m a red wine drinker … Sivi Pinot? The color was gold-copper, no doubt from the amphora, day bright, clear, full body with medium legs and an unbelievably aromatic nose of red apple, dried fruits and a hint of vanilla. True to the palate with dried fruits, crisp red apple, and an array of baking spices like nutmeg, enough acidity to support the aging and the finish leaves a welcomed viscosity in the mouth. A really delectable wine! This is a winemaker’s masterpiece.
Whether you agree or not on how much the winemaker should interfere with grape, this winemaker has discovered the right amount of time a Sivi Pinot should spend in new French oak for just the right amount of oak influence; then aged further in 7 foot clay amphoras receded into the cellar floor and sealed, which gives it a touch of terracotta color and minerality. Who knew a Sivi Pinot could age?
We’ve now experienced amphora styled Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sivi Pinot. I think it’s an amazing way to further mature a wine as well as celebrate the ancient ways. Combining an ancient old technique with new state of the art equipment is producing amazing wines. Just my humble opinion … but it is okay by me to have the winemaker craft such amazing and elegant nectar!
Katy Bendel, Founder of CarpathianWines.com, is located in San Diego, CA. They import, distribute and sell online extraordinary boutique wines they have hand selected from their exclusive portfolio of Central European producers.