I would imagine about 90% of you are currently asking yourself, "should I know what a clay amphora is?".
Probably not. I certainly didn't.
Basically it's just a big clay pot, and it was what wine was made in before barrels. I'm talking Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
But apparently, in the past few years, clay has been making a comeback. Here is a link to a very interesting article published in 2012 about the resurgence of clay amphoras.
But, of course, that article is all about the rise of this style of winemaking in Europe. Nobody in CANADA would be so brazen or so foolish, would they?
Darryl Brooker is.
Darryl, the winemaker at Cedarcreek for the past few years (before being poached by Mission Hill), decided to buy an amphora from Chianti in 2013 and produce Canada's first and only (I presume) wine made in such a container.
In an interview with prolific wine writer John Schreiner, Darryl explained the process:
“The thought process behind this choice was that I wanted to leave the wine on skins for a long time and see what happened to the character of the wine,” he explains in a narrative released with the wine. “The wine was essentially an amphora trial. I decided not to line the amphora with beeswax or any other lining [leaving] completely natural clay in contact with the wine.”
Some 500 kg of berries, which were harvested October 28, 2013, went into the amphora without the addition of either sulphur or acid.
“We sealed the amphora and walked away,” he continues. “My big surprise was how hard it was to do nothing.”
He resisted the temptation to open the amphora and taste the wine. “This would have spoiled the trial,” he explains. “It took immense will power but I held strong and after almost eight months on the skins, we decided to open and press off the amphora. … I was totally expecting the wine to be challenging and potentially spoiled.”
Like a vintner in ancient
Rome, Darryl pressed the grapes by foot, perhaps because CedarCreek did not have a basket press small enough. “The wine was exceptionally fresh with amazing earthy herb notes,” his narrative continues. “I was even more surprised by the rich and balanced tannins in the wine; they were not too harsh or extracted. I believe this is due to the high oxygen transmission rate in the amphora, which helped t0 polymerize and soften the wine.”
Deciding against putting the wine in oak, he aged it a further eight weeks in stainless steel and then bottled it, unfiltered and with no additives.
“The amazing part is that this wine has never had any added preservative (sulphur dioxide) and it has not had any yeast or malolactic bacteria added,” the narrative continues. “It is a truly natural wine at 14.8% alcohol. It has no residual sugar or residual malic acid. It is amazingly fresh and I now believe it will have a relatively long life ahead of it.”
I asked Darryl about aging the wine. When I ask about aging a wine what I am really asking is "will it IMPROVE with age", but Darryl's answer was basically "I don't know". Makes sense I suppose, this is the first time a wine like this has ever been produced in BC. If I had a bunch of them I would put one away for a decade just to find out. Since I only have two, not gonna happen.
Cedarcreek 2013 Desert Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Amphora Project ($52.99)
Rich purple in colour, the nose is assaulted with herbaceous notes intertwined with plum, cherry, mint and cigar box. A rich and full mouthfeel. Berries overwhelm the palate, with black cherry and tobacco on the finish. Very smooth with a long and luscious finish. This is a real treat. 93.
Sorry to say that if you don't already have some of this, you aren't likely to find any, as it sold out in no time. Don't despair, though, as apparently they also did this for 2014, so next year there is more to come. Pay attention, though, as I doubt they are making much of it. It's too special for that.