Wine aged in clay, or amphora, has grown in popularity in recent years. But this technique is far from new. In fact, the practice originated in what is now modern-day Georgia, around 6,000 years ago.
Clay pots have long been used in other Old-World regions. For example, in Alentejo, Portugal, it’s believed that amphorae, or talhas as they’re known in the country, have been used for more than 2,000 years. However, Dr. Patrick McGovern, science director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, thinks the practice in Portugal may date back 1,000 years earlier than historians previously believed.
Amphorae have been experiencing a renaissance across the globe and can now be seen in places like the United States and Australia.
Amphorae by any other name
Italy: Anfore, orci or giare
What are the benefits of aging wine in clay?
Clay can be thought of as a middle ground between steel and oak. Stainless steel allows for an oxygen-free environment and doesn’t impart any flavors into the wine. Oak, on the other hand, allows for ample oxygen to reach the juice, and the wood’s tannins can also affect the aromas and flavors of the wine.
Like oak, clay is porous, so it does allow for some oxygen giving the wine a deep and rich texture, but like steel it’s a neutral material that won’t impart any additional flavors.
From New- and Old-World wine regions alike, here are some amphora-aged wines you will want to seek out.
00 Wines 2018 Hyland Pinot Noir (McMinnville); $95, 94 points. There are many wineries that make a Hyland vineyard cuvée, yet this stands out. Perhaps the decision to ferment completely in amphora, then age in 100% new French oak, is what takes it to a different place. The mix of clay and wood is an interesting one, bringing drying minerality up against spicy oak tannins. The cherry fruit is fully ripe but stays in the background with notes of mint and raw lumber. This fascinating wine should be tucked away and tried again in another couple of years. —Paul Gregutt
Tre Monti 2019 Vitalba Secco Albana (Romagna); $32, 94 points. Vinified in amphora and macerated on the skins for 90 days, this compelling, amber-colored wine opens with heady aromas of ripe yellow stone fruit, ginger, cedar and vetiver. The full-bodied, delicious palate features dried apricot, tangerine zest, fennel and toasted hazelnut accompanied by tangy acidity. Truly unique, it’s full of personality and flavor. Drink through 2025. Bacchanal Wine Imports. Editors’ Choice. —Kerin O’Keefe
Château des Landes 2018 Luccianus Amphore (Lussac Saint-Émilion); $40, 93 points. Centenarian vine Cabernet Franc aged for a year in an amphora has yielded a well structured wine. Dense tannins are no impediment to the wine’s black fruits and spicy, open character. Rich and concentrated, the wine will age and be best from 2024. Kysela Père et Fils. —Roger Voss
Elena Fucci 2017 Titolo by Amphora (Aglianico del Vulture); $92, 92 points. Initially reserved on the nose, with time in the glass this amphora-aged wine opens up to reveal aromas of dark mixed berries, crushed rock, violet and Mediterranean scrub. There’s richness to dark fruit on the palate, with a pulsing mineral tone driving throughout. It’s coiled and brooding currently, built by a strong framing of tannins that need time to settle. Drink 2023–2033. Enotec Imports, Inc. Cellar Selection. —Alexander Peartree
Shalauri Cellars 2015 Dry White Wine Fermented in Qvevri Mtsvane (Kakheti); $27, 92 points. This deep amber-colored wine has aromas of orange and butterscotch. It comes on fruit forward, but then tannins and spice settle in, featuring flavors of apple, lemon, pineapple, roast cashew and smoke. The bold finish offers a distinct floral note. Georgian House of Greater Washington, LLC. Editors’ Choice. —Mike DeSimone
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2019 Amber Rkatsiteli (Finger Lakes); $40, 91 points. This rare Georgian variety is a hallmark for the winery, which has vines dating back to the early 1980s. The wine sees extended skin contact and is aged in a mix of neutral barrel, amphora and clayver. Incredibly floral on the nose, it dazzles in a bevy of milky white flowers, peppery white spice and peach. The medium-bodied palate follows suit, displaying an alluring mix of tart stone fruit, flowers and spice. There’s a pleasing, textural grip to it all, akin to the delicate tannins of oolong tea. —A.P.
Keeler 2018 Terracotta Amphorae Riesling (Eola-Amity Hills); $32, 91 points. Keeler is making some of its white wines in amphorae. Despite the relatively low finished alcohol, this is not a sweet or even off-dry wine, though it sets the palate a notch or two above bone-dry. Concentrated citrus, apple and white peach fruit is underscored with the drying minerality that terra-cotta fermentation brings. The overall length is excellent. —P.G.
Blackbird Vineyards 2019 Dissonance Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley); $20, 90 points. Sourced from both Hudson Vineyard in Carneros and Bavarian Lion Vineyard in Knights Valley, this contains 13% Sémillon and is aged in clay amphorae as well as new French oak. Complex and earthy, it offers grapefruit, pear and apple flavors with lasting acidity and a note of cardamom. —Virginie Boone
Herdade do Rocim 2019 Amphora Red (Alentejo); $16, 90 points. Aged in amphorae, the wine was made naturally with wild yeast. The result is a fine textured, fruity wine with a strongly juicy character as well as light tannins. The wine should be deliciously ready from 2021. Shiverick Imports. —R.V.
Published: October 16, 2019