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October 26, 2020
The amphora (pl. amphorae; from Greek amphi - on both sides, phero - carry) is a two-handled pot with a neck that is considerably narrower than the body. It was used for the storage of liquids, such as wine, and solids such as grain. Undecorated 'coarse' amphorae, with their lower part tapering to a point, where the standard transport containers in the Mediterranean, were the point acted as a third handle due to their considerable weight when loaded. The technique of fermenting, ageing and storing wine in clay amphora is far from new. In fact, the practice originated in what is now modern-day Georgia, around 6,000 years ago.
To carry liquids such as wine, the inner surface of the of porous clay amphora must be sealed. This historically was a coating of pine resin. To stop the mouth, either a large cork or a lid of fired clay was pushed down the neck and then sealed with a mortar. Our friends at Silva Daskalaki winery seal their amphoras with a gum tree resin and bees wax mixture for the best results and minimal interference with the wine.
Winemakers have been experimenting with fermentation and ageing in modern copies of amphora made from clay or even concrete. The level of oxidation provided by the vessel depends more on the size, width of opening and sealing of the inside surface, than the material used to construct the amphora. The more typical amphora shape with a narrower base, allows less lees contact and better settling for the wine during fermentation that egg-shaped styles that some wine makers use. Amphora are generally free-standing, but some wine makers bury their amphora in the ground, emulating Georgian traditions. To maximise the local footprint on the resulting wine, some wine makers add gravel and limestone from their vineyards to the concrete mixture, or source clay locally in an effort to authenticate the wines' terroir orientation and 'trueness' to the land it is made from.
Our wines from Silva Daskalaki winery are biodynamic and natural, and from clay! So they really are something for people to sit and consider, and to try and come to terms with what they have just tasted. These wines are in a class and category of their own. Silva Daskalaki produce the Grifos range of wines, fermented in custom-made 300 litre clay amphoras that are made locally in Heraklion, Crete from clays sourced in the wine growing region. That means each amphora holds 400 bottles of wine, so production of these wines is very limited. Maturation ranges between the Grifos red, white and rosé, but typically this can be from 15 days to 30 - 40 days for the red wine.
Please let us know your comments below as we are always looking for feedback and more detailed peer-reviewed information! If you have tried the wine, we would also love to hear from you too. Please feel free to contact us and ask for more information on any wine of ours that you are thinking of trying and we can give you information, tips for serving and pairing straight away. You can even use our chat window to ask us questions.
The Oxford Companion to Wine, edited by Jancis Robinson, 4th Edition
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May 11, 2021