I discovered wine fermented in amphoras in Portugal. The delightful liquid that results from this fermentation method is called Vinho de Talha. These are wines made the way the Romans made wine. Their discovery booted over-oaked, industrial American wines from my once-conformist palate.
Then, recently I discovered this amfora wine, made in Armenia. It was a gift, a very precious one:
Oh my! Discovery can make your mind spin. The wine was delicious, not in that manipulative way used by big commerce, you know: “passing the Cinnabon shop and swooning at the sweet vanilla they spray in all directions to ignite your passion for sweets”. No, this wine showed itself in an earthy, soothing, cool jazz sort of way, as if the earth whispered to you, “whatever you can do with manipulation I can do better”, i.e. “leave me alone!”
Doing better, of course, means doing away with the manipulative present to take on the task of producing an ancient, traditional wine produced without intervention, the way the wine likes to be made.
Stainless steel tanks have given way to temperature controlled rough concrete vats in which the wines are fermented exclusively with indigenous yeast, the micro oxygenation in the concrete being similar to that of the traditional clay amphorae ‘karas’ in which the wine is then aged for around twelve months. The ‘karas’ used are of varying sizes and are found roaming the villages. Some are buried in the ground while others are above ground each giving their own unique nuances to the wine they contain. After very light filtration the wine is bottle aged for around six months. — Karasì
The thrill of drinking history
In my dark, wine-soaked mind I can see a revolution on the horizon. Wine corporations have been shaping our taste in wine for many years, brainwashing us into contributing to their oaky prisons—and now some interesting folks want to break from this manipulative “tradition” that requires expensive “stuff” that makes smallness impossible in the market. Money rules when you let it.
Let’s examine the philosophical transition made by Josko Gravner, who produces fine wine in the Friuli region of Italy. At one time his winery, Gravner, was full of “what industry would call the ‘latest technology’. Then, little by little, he started to reduce the industrial equipment to return to the source of wine.
I don’t think it is possible that, over the last few decades, five thousand years of winemaking history have been erased so easily. This is my cellar. There is no modern technology or special effects here. This is a space where amphorae from the Caucasus are gently cradled by my land. I love this place because it is simple and functional. — Josko Gravner
Here’s Josko in his cellar, explaining the process:
I love that he equates the “normal” practice of adding unnatural yeast to the juice as “artificial insemination”.
He has made the turn back, returning to the origin of where things went wrong to take a different path.
We Americans aren’t used to turning, we doggedly head forward into the abyss. Perhaps we shouldn’t do that now. The practice is making me itchy for Democracy.
The Anatomy of an Amphora
Perhaps you know your Amphorae. You know the pointy, Roman ones made to be “stuck into the sand” so they could be unloaded from the ship on a beach to wait for the appropriate donkey or something. But here’s the thing, that’s not the only reason for the shape. In A Brief Illustrated History of Wine writer Madeline Puckette, author of Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine, writes:
900–100 BC Clay amphorae are used to store and transport wine in ancient Greece and Rome.
Then, in her interview with Andrew Beckham, who makes amphora wine in Oregon of all places, she writes:
Over several years, Beckham worked on developing the right amphora shape which involved researching ancient designs including Roman amphora, Spanish Tinaja (terra-cotta storage vessels) and Georgian Qvevri. This is where Beckham has stumbled across some fascinating secrets from the past. For example, his skin-contact Pinot Gris was made in a Roman-styled amphora, which is narrow and pointy. The design of the amphora lets the seeds drop to the bottom and reduces the bitter tannins from the seeds. The result is an intensely colored Pinot Gris, which perhaps mimics the so-called “golden wines” of the Roman empire.
If you’d like to read about how the amphora makes different wine, you’d best read the whole article: Ancient Amphora Winemaking is Alive in Oregon
Corporations may have taken over the government of many nations, but there’s a way you can do a small favor for the people passionate about wine, food, and the earth. Eat, drink, and seek out the products connected to the earth. The big ball will thank you for it.