WHY IN AMPHORA?

The oldest amphorae room of the Bodega de la Estrellas is the one we call “room of clay amphorae”. It contains 19 baked earth jars of around 5 000 litres capacity each. They are marvellous pieces of pottery built 124 Km far from Valdepeñas, in Villarrobledo (Albacete), by an artisan called JUAN DE LA GUIA whom descendent still live there but have stopped making jars.

These amphorae have been installed in the 19th century and have been accompanying the family during the centuries of wine elaboration we have been through. First of all, I would like to pay homage to the excellent work accomplished by this ceramic workshop and its productions: each of them produces and contains amazing wine, none of them presents any sign of deterioration or negative quality.

On the path through the winery, when explaining the wine elaboration and the natural origin of aromas and flavours, we use this comparison with the effect of cooking, how the aromas and flavours of the ingredients are modified depending on the material they are cooked in. Thus, we connect the wine elaboration in amphorae with the food cooked in a clay pot: “What is conferring to clay the ability of enriching stew dishes and soups with such a complexshade of aromas and flavours?”.

Well, we feel very proud that this same special effect is the one impregnating our white and red wines when they are elaborated in these fantastic amphorae. As we use to say to our visitors, they make “wine of clay pot”.

 

Wine elaboration in amphorae

Clay’s characteristics which more relevant effects we have detected in wine can be associated with:

- Constant capillarity and microoxigenation which allow the red wines to erase herbaceous and astringent notes, leading to a the result more oriented towardsripe fruit flavours, without reducing effects.

-Electrostatically inert material able to conduct a respectful fermentation respectful towards regarding the varietal conditions, adding an air of distinction to the result with an outstanding complexity.

-High thermostable capacity material which facilitates a slow fermentation process while the ovoidal shape of the amphora favours exchange and homogenisation processes by the fluids dynamic.

Maturation in amphorae

These same qualities of microoxigenation, inertia and thermostability take place in the following processes following the fermentation, such as the decantation and maturation of the wines. Clay amphorae make easier the decantation of particles in suspension by their electrostatic inertia.

Both the shape and material permit a “lateral adhesion” which improves the decantation; and at reverse, favours the moving process of the fine lees, with the added advantage brought by microoxigenation: their reducing character is neutralised.

Finally, mannoproteins get powerful, reaching a better tartaric stability and colouring material.

The maturation in amphorae improves the oenological perception, making the bodied and volume sensations better. Wines of “miajon” in a popular expression used by former winemaking masters.

The maturation in amphorae reduces the astringent and bittering part of the tannins. It stabilises the aromatic fraction and improves significantly the after-taste perception.

Aging in amphorae

The effect of “aging” in amphora, we realise it in La Bodega de las Estrellas, in the jars of the cellar. Seven smaller amphorae of 3 000 litres capacity are stored nine meters underneath the ground, at a temperature of 10 to 15ªC all the year.

The amphorae “aging” possesses’ qualities are differential from the aging in oak barrels, the most important one is the maintaining and respect of the varietal qualities that are not modified by the “invasion” of foreign aromas and flavours since the material doesn’t transfer any component, unlike wood.

The anthocyanins oxidation and destruction phase is clearly slower and reduced; the development of flavonoids is very complicated. Consequently, the wine doesn’t lose its primary aromas but deepens its maturity qualities. Its fruity character becomes compote fruit quality. From its precursors, it has formed other own and specific components.

If the growing in amphora open a splendid debate and provide magnificent results for the red wines, in the case of white wines the result is much more spectacular, it brings new typologies and surely an innovative vision of the traditional varieties.

To conclude, a reflexion from an independent vintner:

We should never let the time be the master which typifies the wines, as it is the case with barrel aging. Instead, we should let the wine itself, the cuvee and vintage’s characteristics, including the artisan winemaker’s objectives: all things that bring diversity.