The winemaking world is in a constant flux of evolution.
Throughout history, various methods have been used when fermenting and ageing wine but in recent years, as wine has become more widely planted, much more accessible to everyone and its popularity has increased, the way wine is made today is much more systematic and industrialised.
A lot of this has to do with the high standard of hygiene provided by the use of stainless steel but as technology advances, so do the materials that are used to make or age a wine.
The usual procedure for fermenting and ageing a wine these days is as follows:
Firstly the grapes are picked, they are then fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged (or not) in an oak barrel.
Many factors such as the type of grape, the kind of yeast used, how long the fermentation process is or the type of oak barrel used can have a profound effect on the final product and can result in a superb wine or a cheap 2€ bottle. Anything can happen!
For a long time, more traditional procedures have been the norm.
Now there are many producers who (I want to believe) are disinterested in the more traditional methods of winemaking and are keen to experiment with different ways of working. This is why we are now hearing about wines that are “fermented in concrete tanks” or “aged in amphorae” or, my favourite “aged in the concrete egg”. Some producers love to talk about their new approach whilst others aren’t so bothered, preferring that you simply enjoy their wine without worrying about how it is made.
For a winemaker, it is fun for them to experiment with various ideas and techniques, and we should make the most of the opportunity to taste these more unique products. At the end of the day, what harm can come to you if you try a wine that has been ‘aged’ in a stone barrel? The worst that can happen is that you simply don’t like it.
The use of concrete or stone in the winemaking process is not a new idea and could be as old as wine itself. However, this method was left behind because it had a tendency to transfer some earthy flavours to the wine and difficulties also arose when it came to the cleanliness and maintenance of the concrete or stone. However, there are now new systems in place to avoid unpleasant influences and maintain a high standard of hygiene without the use of aggressive chemicals.
Concrete has a similar micro-oxygenation level to oak (tiny bits of oxygen can come in and out of the recipient, which is beneficial to the wine), but there is no oaky taste transferred to the wine.
Here are a few of the more popular “new” recipients used to make wine:
- The concrete tank
This is now quite common. It was always an easy and inexpensive way to ferment the wine. It is also a natural insulator and temperature stabilizer, unlike stainless steel, where the temperature has to be controlled. The result is a wine with more freshness and a similar roundness to oaked wines.
- The Amphora
As you may already know, Romans used to transport wine and many other things inside amphorae. At many site excavations where wine would have been made by the Romans, pieces of amphorae can often be found. The idea of ageing wine in amphorae is logical. A similar effect to the concrete tanks can be achieved, but the different kinds of clay and the smaller size make it more playful for the winemakers. We have tasted wines from one winery where the same type of grape was used but they were aged in two different kinds of amphorae and the result was amazingly different. We recommend you try it!! (Parés Baltá Amphora Gris and Amphora Roja).
- The Concrete Egg
This is my personal favourite. It’s an ‘alien looking’ grey 2.5m egg with a pointy side facing upwards. The inventors claim that due to the forces of nature and the cosmos, the wine is in constant rotational circulation. This allows the wine to be continually in contact with its lees (dead yeast that gives wine density as well as other properties). The result is a more aromatic and dense wine, which is worth a try. Cheaper plastic versions can also be found. Also, in a brief conversation with winemaker Alfredo Arribas, he showed me a photo of a horizontal egg that he claims changes the circulation inside the egg to create a very different result. Egg-shaped oak barrels can also be found!!
The imagination of the winemakers and their enthusiasm to experiment makes this industry a never-ending tasting ground for the senses. We love a good wine made traditionally, but we also love to be surprised by something completely different.
We are therefore in favour of the old and the new!!