There is something simply amazing to view a winery making its top wines in a series of earthenware jars.
Is there shock-horror? Yes for a technocrat trained on the finer points of grades of stainless steel.
But no for someone on a path of discovery to understand just what the practitioners do when there is a choice to return to the roots of winemaking practice.
And the use of clay pots has been a natural winemaking event year-on-year in Georgia for as far back as 6000 years BC.
Recently a colleague advised me that a 2012 trip to this old world winemaking country included a visit to a monastery using the clay pot containers continuously for 1000 years (a lot of vintages there to build up tartrate!)
So I was recently on the path of discovery in Sicily to visit two famous properties using earthenware jars for winemaking and aging (COS in Vittoria) and Cornelissen (on Etna) who ages new wine similarly.
There is a space in between with the technology path-that of using oak barrels as storage vessels, and over the past decade used, large (3-5,000 litre) format casks have proved to be valuable aging means for high quality wines.
Casks displaced earthenware vessels as they were more practical. However keeping large casks fresh and clean is a never-ending job, and at times capable of going wrong (cask has to be burnt).
Also the cask remains practical for making larger volumes of wine, while re-introducing the clay pot makes sense for small parcel winemaking as pot management is a lot simpler than in the 15th century.
Making and aging wine in clay pots is essentially the production of wine un-oaked; so the revered barrel used in some winemaking societies, goes out the door!
However, this is a more natural process because the oak tannin taken from a barrel is replaced by natural tannins extracted by weeks, and even months of allowing the wine to macerate with skin and seed, not rushed and of course over a winter where temperatures are preserving, and anti-oxidant unwanted.
COS Rami 2010; IGT; 12% (AUD 20) is golden-yellow, orange wine; smelling of marzipan, sherry and marmalade, clearly not varietal but a product of the process; lots of lovely flavour and layers of texture/taste; full on body, not shy on dryness, though only ten days on skins, clearly high pH.
This is very plucky drink as I chewed green olives and marvelled at the after-taste of this wine. The grape blend is two-the native grapes inzolia and grecanico. Clearly no preservative added.
On a return visit to COS I tasted Rami 2011; IGT, 12% (AUD 30) with a great deal of elegance in colour and nose; more elevated than 2010 but emphatically textural. Note the own-design bottle which is a copy of an ancient Sicilian wine container, commemorating the establishment of the biodynamic vineyard and business from 1980.
COS Pithos 2010; IGT; 13% (AUD 30) is not heavily coloured; just a nice cherry red hue and engaging aroma which says-have a drink; there is earth and currants, then the palate subtle, soft, long, a little chalky from six months on skins, a good result to have this tannin level for wine of such modest colour density, not too drying, just lovely. Eat with some salami and marvel at the flavour mix, chilled is better. In Roman times a Pithos was a 2-3,000 litre clay wine storage vessel. Is 60% nero d’avola, 40% frappato.
The 30 hectare COS vineyard sits on the hot climate, red sand over clay soils of the Vittoria plain.
The winery uses 140 amphorae for wine making and aging, approximately 400 litres capacity, wax-lined, manufactured in Spain, set with sea sand to make a second level floor from which to undertake cellar procedures.
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