The ancient practice of fermenting and aging wine in concrete never left, it just fell out of serious fashion. But with a sense of rediscovery, California winemakers—along with a slew of producers around the world—are embracing the tradition and claim it’s helping them to make better wine. Here are the four things you need to know about this re-emerging tank trend.
The revived trend in California started with a few artisan labels playing around with the Old World method. But in recent years, winemakers at some more prominent outfits began incorporating batches of wine made in concrete into their bottlings, including Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and Flowers.
The thick concrete walls guard against abrupt mercury swings, keep whites naturally cool, and allow for easier temperature control when warming reds during fermentation.
The Best of Both Worlds
Producers and winemakers claim concrete actually “breathes” much like oak, but leaves no flavor behind, like stainless steel. And while not permeable (wine would soak through if it was), the surface actually holds millions of microscopic pockets that are refilled with air each time the tank is emptied. These tiny pinches of oxygen, winemakers say, help to preserve aromatics, tame tannins and improve mouthfeel.
While concrete tanks can be poured and molded into any shape (square and conical are the most popular), egg-shaped vats are, um, hatching quite a buzz in the wine world. That’s because several winemakers swear up and down the egg’s ovoid shape—with its metaphysical, which-came-first mystique—somehow adds an unnamable dimension to the flavor (commence eye rolling). Some argue the curved shape rounds out the wine (continue eye rolling). Still, other producers are ordering the egg tanks for far more logical reasons: They’re easy to maintain, they’re durable and visitors to the winery think they look, well, cool.