Amphora Wine

The following article appeared in Decanter Magazine.  It is of interest because these wines are made by wine makers that believe in a mineral intervention or a minimal approach to their wine making. If you have never tasted these wines before the descriptions  are very informative.

Amphorae

by Tina Gellie

First taste: 12 Amphorae wines to try

As increasing numbers of wine producers are making wines in terracotta vessels, Decanter’s associate editor Tina Gellie attended the Feats of Clay tasting held by UK merchant Les Caves de Pyrene, and shares her 12 best value wines.

These clay amphorae – or qvevri, as they are known in Georgia, where this winemaking technique has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list – are increasingly being used by producers across the world who prefer a minimal intervention or natural approach to their winemaking.

While they come in many sizes (250 litres to several thousand), and from several types of clay, these porous amphorae are essentially egg-shaped vessels where the grape juice is pressed and fermented and remains in contact with the grape skins, from just a few days up to several years.

Many wines are made in small quantities, so allocations are small and prices are high, but here are 12 exciting examples available at £25 or less.

White

De Martino, Muscat Viejas Tinajas, Itata, Chile 2014
18.5pts/20 (95/100pts)
Lychees and roses on the nose suggest Gewurztraminer rather than Muscat but on the palate there’s more of the savoury, straw and almond characters you might associate with a manzanilla Sherry. Zippy and grippy, from ungrafted, unirrigated old bush vines. Great value.
Price: £16 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2017
Alc 13%

Loxarel, Xarel-lo Amfora, Penedes, Spain, 2014 
18pts/20 (93/100pts)
This is a limited, biodynamic Xarel-lo (one of the three traditional Cava grapes) from passionate Penedes winemaker Josep Mitjans. It has five days’ skin contact then spends five months in amphora before being bottled unfiltered. Crisp, juicy, fresh and approachable, it’s full of grapefruit, yellow apples and savoury Indian spices.
Price: £14.50 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2017
Alc 13%

Bernabé-Navarro, Benimaquia Tinajas, Alicante, Spain, 2011    
17.75pts/20 (92/100pts)
Rafa Bernabé makes a host of idiosyncratic, small-parcel, natural wines from his organic vineyards. This 100% Moscatel spends four months in tinajas (amphorae) and offers great acidity, tart apple fruit, quince and wet-stone minerality. Bone dry, like a light fino Sherry.
Price: £15 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2018
Alc 13.5%

Paolo & Gustav, Wildstyle Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia, 2013    
17.75pts/20 (92/100pts)
For the third vintage of this quirky Riesling, the grapes spend 30 days on their skins in a Magnum ceramic egg called ‘Dora the Amphora’ then move to oak barrels for six months. The acidity is quite muted, but it has lovely mouthfeel and lipsmacking flavours of mandarin, fresh lemonade and almonds.
Price: £25 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2017
Alc 12.5%

Pheasant’s Tears, Mtsvane, Kakheti, Georgia 2013    
17.5pts/20 (91/100pts)
Co-owner and winemaker John  Wurdeman admits this white is a bit of a Marmite wine. From 70-year-old vines on a 0.9ha plot, it is a little sweaty to start but then enticing  notes of potpourri, bonfire and lapsang souchong tea come through. There’s great acidity too to leap it fresh.
Price: £20 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2020
Alc 12%

Pheasant’s Tears,Tsolikauri, Imereti, Georgia 2013    
17pts/20 (90/100pts)
With no skin contact, it’s just free-run juice that spends nine months in qvevri here, resulting in a very pretty nose and soft palate of fresh green apple and a hint of tropical fruit. Easy to like and a good introduction to the many other native grapes in the Pheasant’s Tears range.
Price: £18 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2016
Alc 11.50%

Rosé

Bernabé-Navarro, La Amistad, Alicante, Spain 2014
18pts/20 (93/100pts)
Made from the local red grape Rojal this is more like a souped-up rosé in colour and style. Its fermented in amphorae and then goes straight into bottle, keeping a bright, zingy freshness of pure cherry juice and a bit of pomegranate. A perfect balcony wine!
Price: £15 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2017
Alc 13.5%

Red

Vino di Anna, Qvevri Rosso, Etna, Sicily, Italy 2013
18.5pts/20 (95/100pts)
Anna Martens and husband Eric Narioo (founder of Les Caves de Pyrène) started this estate on Mt Etna in 2010. This delicious red is made from very old bush-vine Nerello Mascalese planted at 900m, whose grapes spent six months in a 2,000-litre qvevri and a further six in an old oak cask. Lifted and forward notes of violets and red cherry with textural tannins, bright acidity and a long, linear finish.
Price: £25 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2022
Alc 13.5%

Cos, Pithos Rosso,  Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2013  
18.25pts/20 (94/100pts)
Pithos’ is the Greek name for the 400-litre clay amphorae buried in the floor of this natural winery. This red is Cerasuolo di Vittoria (a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato) which spends 12 months underground. It’s deliciously sappy and richly complex, with a textured palate  redolent of sour cherries, slate and almond blossom.
Price: £25 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2022
Alc 12%

Cristiano Guttarolo, Primitivo Amphora, Gioia del Colle, Puglia, Italy 2010    
18.25pts/20 (94/100pts)
A beautiful wine from a tiny plot of Primitivo at 400m altitude. It spends eight months in 500-litre amphorae and then another eight in stainless steel. Deep stewed and spiced plums on the nose with balsamic cherry and strawberry on the palate. Crunchy, pure and focused.
Price: £23 Tutto Wines
Drink 2015-2020
Alc 14.5%

Pheasant’s Tears, Saperavi, Kakheti, Georgia, 2013  
18pts/20 (93/100pts)
Deep, dark and vivid bramble fruits leap from the glass here, to join grippy fruit tannins, a firm structure and refreshing acidity. Of all the 2013 reds, this has the longest skin contact at three weeks, and then spends 10 months in qvevri. A bold and delicious wine for the barbecue.
Price: £19 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2021
Alc 14%

De Martino, Cinsault Viejas Tinajas, Itata, Chile, 2013    
17.75pts/20 (90/100pts)
Dry-farmed, old-vine Cinsault grapes are fermented and aged in ancient clay jars and then unfined and unfiltered at bottling. The result is an incredibly pure, long yet gentle wine with ripe raspberry fruit, earthy tones and a taut cranberry and tart mineral finish. One to quaff very slightly chilled.
Price: £15 Les Caves de Pyrène
Drink 2015-2016
Alc 13%

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