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Amphora wine ageing – how does it affect wine?

The amphora has been part of the wine industry from its earliest days. The ancient Phoenician civilisation used amphorae way back in 3500 BC. The Romans and Greeks used amphorae as their main way of storing wine, olive oil and other goods. In the 7th century AD, these civilisations produced amphorae on a mass scale.

Recently, winemakers have taken a renewed interest in amphorae ageing. Several winemakers have decided to move back to this ancient practice, and scientists have spent the time to figure out how amphora ageing affects wine. Let’s have a look.

The first thing to know about amphorae is that they are very porous. Even the Romans and the Greeks realised that this was bad for wine storage. They have added spice to the wine to hide the oxidative flavours and have later glazed the earthenware to avoid oxygen pickup. Even the design of the neck of the amphora helped to reduce the surface area of the wine that comes into contact with air.

Raw amphorae vs barrel aged wines

In a study comparing amphora ageing with barrel ageing on Chardonnay, scientists have noticed several interesting differences. Firstly, the amphora matured wines had higher dry extract and tannins than the barrel aged wines, resulting in a prominent, but according to the panel, pleasant tannin perception.

Secondly, the amphora aged wines retained more phenolic compounds, specifically those that react with vanillin. The result was that the amphora aged wines had lower vanilla notes than the barrel aged wines. A further finding regarding flavour was that the amphora wines showed less varietal character.

On the down side, the amphorae wines were more vulnerable to oxidation. The amphorae wines had a darker yellow colour and higher volatile acidity than the barrel aged wines.

Raw amphorae vs sealed amphorae

These results were uncovered comparing raw amphorae. In reality, winemakers are more prone to use glazed or englobe sealed amphorae. Another study found that the antioxidant activity of englobe amphorae was higher than in natural amphorae and retained even longer than wine aged in stainless steel tanks. Furthermore, the englobe sealed amphora wines kept even more phenolic compounds than the raw amphora wines.

Winemakers’ opinions

Winemakers using amphorae during their winemaking process insist that the porous nature of the amphora protects the wine against oxygen and results in a fresher wine, even without the addition of sulphur.  One thing that winemakers who use amphorae in their winemaking procedure agree on is that the wines taste fresher and fruitier with lots of texture and body. Of course, these observations are quite subjective, but the overwhelming agreement among winemakers who use amphorae indicate that there might be some truth here.

Those in the know have suggested that the decision doesn’t come down to making 100% amphora aged wines or 100% barrel aged wines, but that a blend of the two ageing methods may create a more interesting and complex wine. We guess there’s only one way to find out and that is to put the theory to the test. We look forward to even more innovation and creativity with amphorae wines.

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