Some of Abruzzo’s top wine producers are utilizing one of the world’s most ancient ways to store and age wine: terracotta, more commonly known as clay. Wine has been aged and stored in a variety of different vessels for thousands of years: oak, stainless steel, concrete, chestnut, acacia, and also clay. In the last century, oak and stainless steel have been the primary materials used in storing wine, with terracotta being remembered as a thing of the past.
This is very true for Abruzzo, as the majority of winemakers tried to emulate a more international style of making wines, ageing them in small French or Slovenian oak barrels. Recently, this has changed, with more natural wineries realizing the benefits of terracotta as being more in tune with their philosophy of making wine: respect for the land, climate, grapes, and not hindering the true taste of the terroir.
The clay vessels meant to store and age wine are called amphorae (in Italian, anfora, orci, or simply terracotta). Historians have uncovered amphorae, either unlined or lined with beeswax that are over 6,000 years old, specifically made for the use in the production of wine for the fermentation and ageing process. In fact, almost every ancient civilization has been found to ferment, age, and store wine in amphorae.
This may seem trivial to a wine drinker, but different materials used for ageing wine can impart different flavours in the final product. For example, stainless steel does not allow oxygen into the wine while aging and not contributing any additional flavours but showcasing the true flavours of the soil, microclimate, and grapes. Oak, on the other hand, contributes to the slow process of oxidative ageing as well as affecting the taste by imparting flavours from the tannins present in oak.
Amphorae can be considered to be in the middle between stainless and oak. They can allow oxygen into the wine but not as much as oak. They “pull” out some of the acidity in the wine creating a “rounder” taste, and do not impart strong flavours like oak can, leaning much more to the neutral side, like stainless steel. The temperature controlling properties of clay are a major benefit as well, making it easier to control the temperature of the wine without it being artificially climate controlled.
See suggestions exceptional examples of wines aged in amphora made by some of this region’s top natural wine producers in the June issue of ABRUZZISSIMO Magazine. Click here to subscribe.
By Lucas Lanci. Lucas is an Abruzzo-based professor of the International Wine and Culture class at Florida State University (Florence Campus).
Featured image: Agricola Cirelli