Long before wine was made in oak barrels and stainless steel, people scooped up clay from the earth and they shaped it into vessels for fermentation.
These first wine vessels, made in the Republic of Georgia over 6000 years ago, were called “Qvevri.” Lined with beeswax, they were buried underground for temperature control as the wines fermented in the stable coolness of the earth.
The Romans used a potter’s wheel or turn table to make their clay pots for wine fermentation; these amphora had a base to stand above ground. For more comparisons between qvevri and amphora, check out this chart on the Avondale Wine website; they make wine using both kinds of vessels.
Over 2000 years ago, the Romans made wine in amphorae in their province of Portugal, which they called Lusitania, after Bachus’s son Lusus; in an 1876 text, the Portuguese called it “Roman system.”
But evidence suggests that the Phoenicians brought the use of amphora to Portugal 1000 years earlier.
Amphora is also known:
- in Portugal as Talha
- in Italy as Anfore, orci or giare
- in Georgia as Quevri
- in Spain as Tinaja
Why age wine in clay today?
Unlike oak which imparts aromas and flavors, clay is a neutral vessel, however, like oak, it is porous and allows an exchange of oxygen. While stainless steel also doesn’t impart a flavor to wine, it prohibits oxygen from reaching the wine. By allowing oxygen, the permeable clay softens the wine and adds texture and character distinct from stainless steel or oak.
It’s All About Amphora this August for Wine Pairing Weekend!
Each month, a group of wine writers focuses on a specific wine and food pairing theme (see the topics below), and for August I am hosting Amphora wines from around the world and the foods to pair with them. Any wine made in a clay vessel, no matter where it is made, what it’s made from, what that clay vessel is called, or how much it costs, it is eligible. But please someone do a Pontet Canet Pauillac! It’s between $150-200 with 35% made in amphora!
I first learned about amphora wine when I visited the Alentejo; as described above, wine made in this way is an important part of the culture. I’ll be writing more about that topic and with an example wine in the preview post in mid-August.
But I really came to understand amphora wine in Oregon on a 2018 press trip there sponsored by Willamette Valley Wine. I’ll be back in the area this August along with many of my wine writing colleagues who will be attending of us will be at the Wine Media Conference in Oregon which is a hot bed of amphora winemaking thanks to the ceramic skills of one A.D. Beckham.
Some may even have the opportunity to taste wines made in amphora or to visit Oregon wineries using amphora.
I believe at least one trip is going to the Carlton Winemakers Studio; the last time I was there, we saw Wynne Petersen-Nedry in action with her amphora with fermenting grapes bubbling away! It’s an amazing place to visit — and buy wine!
After her dad Harry Peterson-Nedry sold Chehalem, Wynne’s now working with her dad at Ribbon Ridge where wines are crushed, aged and bottled at the Carlton Winemaker’s Studio. This co-op facility exemplifies the collaborative spirit of the Oregon wine industry.
In September 2018, on a press trip sponsored by Willamette Valley Wine, I also visited Beckham Estate Vineyard where I met Andrew Beckham and we tasted and chatted; I purchased several wines including the two discussed below fermented in the ceramic vessels he made.
As a high school ceramics teacher, Andrew Beckham purchased his property in 2004 to be his art studio, not to farm. He helped a neighbor out pruning his Pinot Noir, and then for fun, he and his wife Annedria planted a few rows of vines, propagating the vines on their coffee table in their living room.
Then in 2006, they had a baby girl, in 2008 another daughter, and then in 2011, a son. And as their family grew, so did their vines.
They found it difficult to sell their fruit — not because there were no takers but because it was “heartbreaking” after growing the vines and raising the fruit “to hand it over,” said Annedria Beckham, adding, “We’re not going to do all this work and give it away.”
Next thing they knew, they were learning how to make wine, with Andrew taking on internships, and In 2009, they produced their first vintage.
Located in the Chehelam AVA, Beckham’s location is prime Pinot Noir wine growing real estate. Perched on the side of Parrett Mountain, Beckham’s red soils consist of a volcanic basalt known as Jory.
In 2013, they discovered Elizabetta Foradori using amphorae, a light bulb went off. Soon the ceramics art teacher, who had always enjoyed working in a larger scale, was off and spinning, building large amphora with different clay compositions until he was happy– only limited in size by what he can fit in his kiln.
They farm organically, no fines, no filters, and in 2017 bottled 3k cases, mostly estate fruit. They are proud that every step is done on site — from propagating and growing the grapes to fermenting in vessels made on site to bottling.
- Cheese plate with brie and pate
- Basque style whole fish with radicchio and roasted vegetables
- Madeleines with cognac, fresh peaches, whipped cream
- 2016 A.D. Beckham Amphora Pinot Gris
- 2016 A.D. Beckham Amphora Syrah/ Viognier
- read about the Beckham rose here (along with 2 other Oregon wines)
2016 A.D. Beckham Amphora Pinot Gris
SRP $42 (for current release)
Purchased with an industry discount at the winery
Color: Salmon, peachy corral, gold bounces off the color of the wine with the light. Pale yellow golden rim. In a large glass this wine shines.
Nose: Light meadow flowers like wild daisy, pollen, cucumber, watermelon, minerals and prairie grasses, very light and lovely, the hibiscus comes across on the nose once it is identified on the palate.
Palate: Fresh and tart, similar to an orange wine. Hybiscus and Tamarind, Dry and tannic, baking spices, cardamon, coriander, cinnamon and clove. Very light and bright.
Pairing: This process of making wine with extended skin contact and in the amphora makes a a very food friendly wine. Everything on the menu was so good with this wine from start to finish.
Nice with triple cream brie and with pate, even better if both are on a whole wheat cranberry cracker. Fabulous with the castravano olives– the wine loves richness. Put a bit of ham on a brie topped cracker. The finish of the wine and the brie is so very nice. Both together brings out such nice fruit in the wine and a wonderful finish. We had the residual flavors of oysters in our mouth when we put this wine into our glass and just wanted to have another oyster with this wine. In fact,
Fantastic pairing with raw oysters, yum, yum, yum! Loves the rich creaminess and the salinity. Absolutely one of our WOW pairings.
With the grilled fish and radicchio, the bitterness of the radicchio brings out bright fruit in the wine– another fabulous pairing. The fish and the flavors of the root vegetables, the tomatoes, and the summer squash were perfect together. The Pinot Gris and the cognac in the dessert work in tandem to produce a perfect pairing. The Pinot Gris even cleanly washes away any flavors of heavy alcohol that may come from the cognac on the peaches making it a light lovely dessert with this wine.
2016 A.D. Beckham Amphora Syrah/ Viognier
Blend 83% Syrah, 17% Viognier
Purchased with an industry discount at the winery
Sourced from the Applegate Valley AVA, the Syrah and Viognier fruit was de-stemmed and the Viognier fruit was partially pressed with a portion of juice removed and used in another blend. The remaining Viognier juice and skins were added to the Syrah resulting in an approximate 83% Syrah and 17% Viognier co-ferment in amphora with no added commercial yeast or SO2 additions. After primary fermentation, the wine was pressed and aged 50% in amphora and 50% in neutral French oak barrels for another 10 months. Bottled with minimum S02 unfined and unfiltered with a production of 120 cases.
This is a Pinot lovers Syrah.
When I smelled this the first time in Oregon amongst the Douglas fir trees on a cool foggy day, I was entranced with the floral aromatics and the textural component on the palate. It was even better with a few years of age on it.
Color: Ruby, medium density, mauve rim
Nose: Violets, forest floor, strawberries, minerals, slight essence of hot springs, mint, light and airy,
Palate: Very smooth and silky, great mouth feel that really stands out, silty clay in texture as it rolls across the tongue, light and lively, fresh and alive, there is a freshness to the fermented grape, baking spices, cinnamon and clove, so clean and enjoyable,
Pairing: We sampled a selection of Spanish cheeses with this wine. It loved them all in different ways. It matched the complexity of the Spanish goat cheese, It matched the creaminess of the Spanish goat cheese, and loved the saltiness of the Iberico, fabulous with the castraveno olives. The peppery quality of the Syrah went so well with the roasted root vegetables. I paired this wine with salmon (winner!) as well as pork loin and lamb. Very versatile!
I hope you’re inspired to join us for Amphora August!
August is All About Amphora! Join us Saturday August 14! Here’s how:
- You have a month to find a wine fermented and aged in clay. You can choose one from anywhere in the world, or compare and contrast one or more. Sponsored posts are welcome as long as it is clearly indicated which wines are samples.
- Bonus for wine from grapes grown organically or sustainably.
- We love to read about the story behind the wine, your pairings (successes and failures!) as well as travel to the area where your wine came from.
- By EOD Weds. August 11, get your title to me by email, comment below, or post in the Facebook event.
- Between Friday August 13 at 8pm and Saturday August 14 8am please publish your post; include #WinePW in the title and add the provided preliminary HTML to link to other participants.
- Join our 8am August 14 twitter chat.
- Read around, comment, and share each other’s posts about wine from clay vessels.
- Add the final HTML to your post which links to participants published posts.
Questions? We’re happy to help.
What we’ve done in #WinePW so far in 2021:
- Jan: Sake & Other Pairings for Asian Food:
Sushi and Wine? Totally fine! Here’s 21 to try in 2021
- Feb: BIPOC and LGBTQ Winemakers/ Owners:
Camins 2 Deams: When a Chumash Winemaker Meets a Spanish One and Sparks Fly
- March: Washington’s Yakima Valley
Washington Syrah With Lamb
- April: Under the Radar European Wine Region
3 Wine from Sicily’s Etna Paired with Pork Sugo
- May: Middle Eastern Pairings
South Africa’s Organic Reyneke Syrah and Chenin Blanc with Instant Pot Persian Lamb
- June: Wine Pairings for Hard to Pair Foods
A+ Pairings for Asparagus, Arugula, and Artichokes with organic wines from Alsace, Argentina, Australia, and Austria
- July: Midwestern US
Indiana’s Oliver’s Surprising Fruit Wines Paired with Deviled Eggs, Roasted Peach Salad, Berry Galette
Where we’re going with #WinePW in 2021:
- Aug: Amphora Wines hosted here on Wine Predator
- Sept: Organic Wine (I’ve offered to host and suggested doing vegetarian pairings)
- Oct: #MerlotMe with host Jeff Burrows
- Nov: Paso Robles wines with host Lori Budd
- Dec: Greek wines with Deanna Kang