A Quick Guide to Amphora-Aged Wine

Antique winery in Spain with clay vessels terracotta amphora pots Mediterranean tradition with candlelight

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

Portugal: Talha

Italy: Anfore, orci or giare

Georgia: Quevri

Spain: Tinaja

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.

Amphora-aged wine for your shelf

Rivetto 2017 Vinificato in Terracotta Nebbiolo (Langhe); $30, 95 points. Dried rose, wild herb, new leather and perfumed berry aromas mingle with baking spice on this dazzling red, made with organic Nebbiolo and vinified in amphorae. The palate boasts a pristine purity of fruit, including juicy raspberry and red cherry, while star anise and crushed mint provide the backdrop. Taut, close-grained tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity provide the framework. Drink 2025–2032. Volio Vino. Editors’ Choice. —Kerin O’Keefe

Zaca Mesa 2015 Amphora Estate Vineyard Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley); $65, 94 points. Dark in the glass, this Syrah aged entirely in clay amphora is fascinating, starting with aromas of roasted lamb and crushed peppercorns. Firm, mouthcoating tannins frame the extremely intense and rich palate, which carries dark fruit and wet-clay flavors. Drink 2019–2030. Cellar Selection. —Matt Kettmann

Keeler 2017 Terracotta Amphorae Riesling (Eola-Amity Hills); $32, 93 points. Keeler is doing some interesting experimentation with fermentation methods, and here they deliver a stunning amphora-fermented, off-dry Riesling. The wine offers a fine mix of apricot, peach and nectarine tones that display a sweet and sour tension. It finishes with a lick of butterscotch. Editors’ Choice. —Paul Gregutt

José Maria da Fonseca 2017 José de Sousa Red (Alentejano); $18, 92 points. Made in amphorae, this wine is ripe and full bodied, with an open character. Bold black fruits and ripe tannins bring out the richness of the wine. Spice comes from the wood aging, which adds an extra dimension. Drink from 2020. Palm Bay International. Editors’ Choice. —Roger Voss

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

Works & Days 2016 Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast); $50, 91 points. Winemaker/owner Cabell Coursey ages this white entirely in terracotta amphorae, and the result is robustly perfumed in apple blossom, with a hint of citrus. Light in texture and balanced power, it finishes in a lovely mix of lemon verbena and pear. —Virginie Boone

Winderlea 2017 Meredith Mitchell Vineyard Pinot Blanc (McMinnville); $35, 90 points. The winery continues its interesting experiment with this wine, in a blend in which almost half was aged in clay amphora, 40% in neutral oak, and 18% in stainless steel. It’s an unusual mix—textured, softened up a bit, with a mix of lime, grapefruit and Meyer lemon fruit. The time in clay brings those drying flavors into sharp focus. —P.G.

Herdade do Rocim 2017 Amphora White (Alentejo); $20, 88 points. Fermented only with natural yeasts, the wine is then aged in traditional clay amphorae. That gives a slight oxidative effect, which fills out the texture with a nutty flavor as well as perfumed white fruits. Drink from 2020. Shiverick Imports. —R.V.

Brash Higgins 2016 NDV Amphora Project Nero d’Avola (McLaren Vale); $42, 87 points. American ex-pat Brad Hickey’s wines are anything but boring. In this Nero d’Avola, left for six months in locally sourced clay amphora, aromatics are at the fore. Potpourri-like florals border on soapy, along with bright red berry, orange peel and herbal cocktail bitters. The palate is tightly wound and grainy-textured, with sappy, savory, vice-like tannins and a briney finish. Drink now–2028. Hudson Wine Brokers. —Christina Pickard

Domaine de Noiré 2017 Amphora (Chinon); $47, 87 points. Aged in clay amphora, this wine comes from organically grown grapes. It has a soft, velvet texture with fruitiness that is already mature and shows a touch of oxidation. The wine, in its amphora-shaped bottle, is ready to drink. North Berkeley Imports. —R.V.

Published on October 16, 2019
Topics: Wine and Ratings