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Two years ago, we published an article about Amphora wine, where we deeply explained the history of terracotta jars and where this fermentation method was born.
This ancient winemaking technique, dating back millennia, has been resurrected by modern winemakers seeking to impart distinct characteristics to their creations. Wines in terracotta vessels offer a unique sensory experience that sets them apart from their counterparts fermented in more conventional materials like stainless steel or oak barrels.
That’s the main reason that here at Podere La Marronaia, we started to ferment wine in terracotta, and we chose as the first experiment to ferment the traditional Vernaccia di San Gimignano, obtaining a rich and velvety white, with incredible and unique taste.
That’s how our Raggio d’Anfora della Marronaia was born.
This new article will deeply analyze the general characteristics of wines fermented in terracotta amphoras.
A Journey through History: The Resurgence of Terracotta
Terracotta, derived from the Italian words “terra” (earth) and “cotta” (cooked), has been utilized by civilizations across the globe for centuries due to its versatility and malleability. From crafting pottery to constructing buildings, terracotta has proven its worth in various domains. In the world of winemaking, terracotta vessels were once the primary containers for fermentation and aging until modern materials and techniques took center stage.
However, as the winemaking industry has experienced a revival of interest in traditional methods, terracotta vessels have resurfaced as a compelling option. These vessels are porous, allowing for a gentle exchange of oxygen during fermentation and aging. This porous nature, coupled with the earthen properties of terracotta, contributes to the unique characteristics that wines fermented in these vessels exhibit.
The Characteristics of Terracotta-Fermented Wines
Vernaccia of San Gimignano fermeted in terracotta jars at Podere La Marronaia, San Gimignano, Italy
- Texture and Mouthfeel: Wines fermented in terracotta often showcase a distinct texture and mouthfeel. The porous nature of the vessel allows for controlled oxygen exchange, promoting a slow and gradual evolution of the wine. This results in wines that are generally more elegant, with refined tannins and a silky, velvety mouthfeel.
- Micro-Oxygenation: Unlike the airtight environment of stainless steel tanks, terracotta vessels provide a measured amount of micro-oxygenation. This encourages a gentle aging process, allowing the wine to develop complexity while maintaining freshness. The micro-oxygenation can also soften harsh edges in young wines, leading to a more harmonious and well-integrated final product.
- Expressive Aromatics: Terracotta’s porous nature plays a pivotal role in the wine’s aromatic profile. The vessel’s ability to gradually expose the wine to oxygen enhances the development of nuanced aromas. This can result in wines with intense and distinct fruit aromas complemented by subtle floral, herbal, or mineral notes.
- Fruit Vibrancy: Wines fermented in terracotta tend to retain the vibrancy and purity of the fruit flavors. The minimal interference from the vessel material ensures that the true character of the grape variety and its terroir shines through. This is particularly appealing to those who value wines with an authentic sense of origin.
- Natural Preservation: Terracotta’s natural properties offer a unique form of preservation. While oak barrels can infuse wines with flavors from the wood itself, terracotta does not impart such flavors. This allows winemakers to preserve the innate flavors of the grape while still benefiting from the vessel’s influence on texture, aroma, and overall aging.
- Balanced Aging: Terracotta is a material that does not impart excessive flavors or aromas, making it an excellent medium for wines that require extended aging. The vessels support the development of complex secondary and tertiary aromas, such as dried fruits, spices, and earthy nuances, while maintaining a balanced and integrated structure.
- Terroir Reflection: Terracotta has the unique ability to express the terroir—the environmental factors that shape a vineyard’s character—of a particular region. Wines fermented in terracotta vessels often exhibit a stronger connection to the land, reflecting the soil composition, climate, and topography in their profiles.
- Eco-Friendly Approach: In an era where sustainability is paramount, terracotta vessels offer an eco-friendly alternative to other fermentation and aging methods. The production of terracotta is less energy-intensive than that of glass or metal containers, aligning with the increasing demand for environmentally conscious practices in winemaking.
Embracing Tradition in Modern Winemaking
The resurgence of terracotta vessels in the contemporary winemaking landscape represents more than just a nostalgic nod to tradition. It embodies a harmonious fusion of ancient wisdom and modern innovation.
Winemakers are drawn to terracotta for its ability to nurture wines through a gentle maturation process while preserving the purity of their fruit. This approach stands in stark contrast to the more interventionist methods often associated with oak aging, and it resonates with consumers seeking authentic and unadulterated experiences.
As with any winemaking technique, working with terracotta vessels requires a deep understanding of their unique characteristics.
From managing the oxygen exchange to determining appropriate fermentation temperatures, winemakers must adapt their practices to fully harness the potential of these vessels. The choice of grape variety, style of wine, and desired aging potential all play into the decision of whether terracotta is the right fit for a particular project.
Exploring the Diversity of Terracotta-Fermented Wines
Variety of Ancient terracotta Jars, Tbilisi, Georgian National Museum
It’s important to note that the influence of terracotta on a wine’s characteristics can vary depending on factors such as the size and shape of the vessels, the duration of fermentation and aging, and the specific winemaking techniques employed. Consequently, the world of terracotta-fermented wines (or amphora wine) is a diverse and intriguing landscape, offering a multitude of flavors, textures, and aromas to explore.
In conclusion, the re-emergence of terracotta vessels in winemaking is a testament to the cyclical nature of innovation and tradition. By harnessing the porous properties of this ancient material, winemakers can craft wines that exemplify elegance, aromatic depth, and a true reflection of their origins. As consumers continue to seek authenticity and connection in their wines, terracotta-fermented offerings provide a unique avenue for exploration, inviting enthusiasts to experience the rich tapestry of flavors that result from this harmonious marriage of art and science.
I hope I have aroused in you a little curiosity about this particular variety of wines.
Now that you know it better, would you like to try it yourself?
Try Now our Terracotta fermented wines directly from San Gimignano, Italy