Wine Talk

Snooth User: vino in love

Wine that aged in cement

Posted by vino in love, Feb 27, 2013.

A few days ago I tasted a wine that aged in cement. I looked for more information on aging wine in cement but I didn't find much. If someone can tell me more about the process of aging wine in cement (and the benefits of doing so) then I would very much appreciate it.

The wine was a Montecucco DOC. You can find my tasting notes for it here.

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Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Feb 27, 2013.

Fermenting and aging concrete vats was a very common practice for decades before the advent of stainless steel changed everything. We're seeing a return to concrete for several reasons, chief among them is the thermal mass that these large structures lend to the wine.

Stainless steel is thin and an excellent conductor of heat, so it was very well suited to having a water jacket applied to the exterior which allows a winemaker nearly instant control of fermentation temperatures, raising or lowering them. There is a growing consensus among many winemakers that more gradual transitions of temperature, and a less even temperature within a fermenting vessel promotes a more natural fermentation. I've heard this over and over again and it makes some sense, just the fact that one can be a bit less interventionist with concrete due to the stability of temperature it affords is appealing to many winemakers.

It's tough to separate the fact from the fiction here, and one undeniable fact is that there are many exisiting if unused concrete vessels in wineries that cost a heck of a lot less to rehabilitate than purchasing new stainless fermenters, so one should keep that in mind.

Reply by outthere, Feb 27, 2013.

Winemakers like concrete for a few reasons. 

  • Concrete eggs have a smooth shape with no corners so fermentation is more even. Temperatures stay even. They say that the wine is in constant motion in an egg. Like an ocean.
  • The eggs breathe like oak without imparting oak flavor but adds minerality..
  • Does not add reductive notes to wine like stainless steel can.

A couple winemakers I know are using them here in Sonoma County. Pax Mahle of Wind Gap, Hardy Wallace of DIrty and Rowdy Family Winery, Jason Jardine of Flowers... Spottswoode out in Napa uses them.

Reply by vino in love, Feb 27, 2013.

Thanks for explaining that to me :)

Looking forward to try more wine that aged in concrete. But I don't think many Italian wineries age their wine in cement and I mostly drink Italian wine.

Reply by GregT, Feb 27, 2013.

Yes, cement is kind of "traditional" in that before there was cement, there were big earthen vessels. If you put a wine in a clay or pottery container, it stays cool because as water evaporates, it takes energy to change state from liquid to a gas and by using the energy to evaporate, it drops the temp of the remaining liquid.

That's why you can keep a wine bottle relatively cool simply by taking it from the cellar and putting it into a clay or crockery cylinder.  So obviously it must be a bit porous as well and you get the micro-oxygenation that you get with wood, but without the wood flavoring. You can accomplish something similar by using old wood, like barrels that are four or five years old, and many people do that because using neutral wood provides the mechanical features you want w/out providing any taste.

I'm not 100 percent certain about this one but I think the egg shape is derived from a traditional amphora, which used to be buried in the ground for temp control in the days before refrigeration. More recently, people in France and elsewhere have come up with theories about the energy levels and all kinds of other things but I don't know that there's any science to validate any of those claims. Of course, they simply say that science doesn't know everything and we're back to biodynamics and the rhythm of the earth.

But I think it's a nice idea and many wines that come from those circumstances are quite good. The eggs first became a fad in Italy and France and now they're all over - Viader was using them in Napa recently.

In addition to the cooling property, concrete is relatively cheap. You can build a concrete room that would hold the equivalent of many barrels for what it would take to buy a fraction of the barrels - new ones are coming in at $1000 each for the top end French ones.

In poorer areas in countries like Spain, where they had vast co-ops making wine for many years, there are many concrete containers, or rooms, for fermentation and winemaking. Some producers are trying to use those to make quality wine as opposed to bulk wine, and the results are interesting and promising. Why not?  In Hungary they made Tokaji in those big huge containers - some are now used as tasting rooms!

Stainless started coming in in the 1980s and it allows much more precise control over temperatures - if your fermentation starts getting too hot you can rapidly drop the temp. And you can clean stainless until it sparkles and avoid any contamination. The bright, crisp, clean whites that some people love would be nearly impossible without the stainless steel tanks.

Sometimes the concrete is glass-lined, which produces a different vessel but one that still takes advantage of the thermal properties of concrete.

But there are wines in Italy that are made that way - I believe Emidio Pepe is one. Marchesi di Barolo does some wines in concrete although I think they ferment in steel and age in concrete whereas  Aurelio Settimo ferments in concrete and ages in big casks, Radikon uses some, Giovanni Rosso does Barolo in concrete, several Verdicchios and other whites are done that way, and there are many more.

Here's a cool idea that takes advantage of the cooling property of concrete or pottery:

And here's a link to more info on the tanks. Remember, some of this is valid, some is just BS marketing, but if I had a winery I might use some of these myself.


Reply by penguinoid, Mar 2, 2013.

If I had a winery, I'd certainly use concerte tanks, too, like GregT. A lot of wineries also line the inside of the tanks with wax. This makes it easier to clean -- concrete that's had wine soaked into it would be a nightmare to keep clean -- but would I guess prevent any micro-oxygenation.

The other thing worth considering is without some kind of layer (wax or glass) between the concrete and the wine, the wine can leach compounds out of the concrete. Depending on who you ask, this is either okay or terrible... I've yet to make up my mind.

EDIT: Looking at the concrete tank producer's site suggested by GregT, I like the model called "The Teacup", if just for the name. I wonder if you could get it made with a large handle, and a matching saucer, just to make it that bit more like a real teacup.... ;-)


Reply by GregT, Mar 2, 2013.

Real Alice in Wonderland wine making Penguinoid!

You are right about the leaching - wine is acidic and concrete is alkaline. That's why many are lined with glass or fiberglass or something neutral.  They also use concrete for waste treatment and it's the same issue. For wine however, you can "cure" the concrete with an acidic solution until there's no more leaching, and then use it as naked concrete, which is what some people are doing.

Pressure washing is another issue as using hi-pressure hoses will also damage the concrete, so you pretty much have to be careful and let it dry completely to eliminate mold or mildew that we all know will grow nicely on damp concrete.

In fact, until the 1970s or so, concrete tanks were the norm in many places. Then when steel came in, concrete was considered old-fashioned and since it was all over, it was associated with bulk wine.

Reply by penguinoid, Mar 2, 2013.

GregT -- Yes, Alice in Wonderland winemaking is a good term. I'll have to remember it ;-). I'm always interested in any "unsual" wine making techniques ... providing they make good wine! Less than pointless if they don't.

Iinteresting comment about "curing" the concrete, I'd not heard of that. Cleaning would still be difficult, I guess. You're not going to get 100% of the residues out of the concrete. But maybe that's not such a problem. Depends how paranoid you are. Letting it dry out naturally is probably easier if you're in a dry climate (e.g. the Barossa Valley) than a humid one (e.g., Bordeaux?).

I've visited a couple of quality-focussed domaines in both Burgundy and Australia, small and large, who use concrete. Some because they're old-fashioned and never stopped, others because they're new-fashioned and it's back in vogue. Strange how if you wait long enough, out-dated sometimes becomes new and cutting-edge again. Sometimes...

Reply by Anna Savino, Mar 3, 2013.

I recently came across this phenomenon myself and was surprised to see that MANY Italian wineries use this method for at least a brief period during aging. Ones that I can remember are: Piemonte, Marcarini, Rizzi while in Sardegna: Dettori I believe does all aging in cement. Hope you can find some more!

Reply by penguinoid, Mar 4, 2013.

I should note: a lot of the wineries I've visited use cement tanks for ferments, rather than aging. Most Burgundy domaines that do this, for example, would then rack into barrels for aging. Wineries in other regions often do both ferments and aging in concrete vats. I'm sure I remember trying a Côtes-du-Rhone red that had been fermented and aged in concrete -- no oak at all -- at one point.

Of course, I suppose there's nothing to stop a winery barrel fermenting a wine then racking into concrete vats for malolactic ferment and aging ... I wonder if any actually do this?

Reply by redpoz, Mar 8, 2013.

wow, thanks for all the informations.

I've never tried a wine aged in concrete, but heard about it during the first lessons about wine.

Should try a comparison with wine aged in stainless steel.

Reply by outthere, Mar 8, 2013.

We should probably differentiate between fermenting and aging. Wines made in on concrete or stainless are not aged in that medium just fermented. A wine can sit in stainless steel forever and not impart anything from it. From my experience, and correct me if I am wrong, mostly whites are done in concrete and then go to bottle when the preferred dryness is met. If a wine were meant to age it would go to barrel at that point where oxygen and oak/acacia/etc impart their nuances.

Reply by redpoz, Mar 8, 2013.

Very correct.

But once the fermentation is completed, you might talk about aging... so, we might have aging in concrete or stainless steel

Reply by outthere, Mar 8, 2013.

But.. Once fermentation is complete the wine will age just as easily in the neutral bottle as it will in either concrete or stainless. This frees up the tanks for other fermentations. If wine is left in concrete too long it builds up a layer of acid on the interior of the tank that is difficult to remove. If not properly cleaned the tank will eventually get to the point where it will no longer breathe. Not good. And since concrete tanks are more expensive than stainless this can become cost prohibitive. Therefor long term aging in concrete isn't a great idea. Unless of course you can afford it.

Reply by penguinoid, Mar 11, 2013.

Outthere wrote:

"But.. Once fermentation is complete the wine will age just as easily in the neutral bottle as it will in either concrete or stainless."

Well, it depends. What do you mean by aging? Often, malolactic fermentation is included as part of the aging process. You don't want to be doing that in bottle.

Equally, I suspect the wine will age differently in a 5000L tank to what it will in bottle, or how it would in a 228L oak barrel. Which of these is better or worse depends on the sort of wine you're making.

"This frees up the tanks for other fermentations."

Wine is rarely bottled the moment it finishes ferment, but yes it'd generally be moved to barrel or a tank designated specifically as a storage tank. Some white wines might be bottled within a month or so of vintage, but few wineries would have the resources to bottle during the middle of vintage (very large wineries, perhaps). Red wines are normally aged in barrel or tank for at least a few months before bottling.

Some lucky wineries have exactly the number of ferment tanks that they do parcels of grapes, I worked in a place in Burgundy once like that. But it's not always the case.

"If wine is left in concrete too long it builds up a layer of acid on the interior of the tank that is difficult to remove. If not properly cleaned the tank will eventually get to the point where it will no longer breathe. Not good."

Interesting point. Cleaning can be difficult with concrete. Lining the concrete with wax will stop this, but of course also stops it from breathing.

"And since concrete tanks are more expensive than stainless this can become cost prohibitive. Therefor long term aging in concrete isn't a great idea. Unless of course you can afford it."

Expensive compared with what? Oak is also expensive, and aging oak in wine will tie the barrels up for anything from 6 months to 2 years.

Reply by GregT, Mar 11, 2013.

I'm assuming he meant aging after fermentation and malo, etc. In other words, now you have finished wine, what do you do to it?  I may be wrong, but that's how I'd use the term "aging".

So you can age in barrel and some regions mandate a specific time in barrels. In CA they don't have mandates, but people put the finished wine into barrels for a few months or years. Sometimes people use old or used barrels, sometimes big huge oak tanks, or sometimes steel.

It would be strange to leave the wine in stainless for several months or years. I'm not aware of anyone who does that, mostly because stainless steel is usually temp controlled and it's used for fermentation, maceration, and preventing malo, etc. But once the wine is done and made, what's the benefit to keeping it in steel? I'm not saying it's not done, just that I don't know anyone who does it.  Usually steel is used to maintain freshness, not for aging.

OTOH, there are places where they leave the wine in concrete for a while and others where they leave it in big tanks before bottling.

And there are of course many different permutations. I was talking to a guy last week and he ferments in barrel and then puts in neutral tanks. Another guy fermented in steel and then puts into barrel. They were next door to each other!

Reply by outthere, Mar 11, 2013.

In response Penguinoid, personally I am only aware of whites being fermented in concrete. Im sure its done with reds as well but not that i have seen here locally. When I say fermentation I mean completed including malo. My main point was that white wines, other than those put to barrel, are generally made to drink young and are not aged in barrel or tank before being bottled.

i could line my septic tank with wax and it would be the same difference. Just kidding. The oxygen is necessary though and the wax would prevent that.

as for expense where a fermentation vessel is concerned I am comparing concrete to stainless. Stainless steel lasts forever, the concrete tanks do not perform the same year in and year out without a lot of maintenance. I am leaving oak barrels out of the equation because my main point was of whites that are made in stainless and concrete in order to avoid oak introduction are not aged for any significant amount of time.


Reply by GregT, Mar 12, 2013.

Reds include wines made by Chapoutier, Graillot, and some Phillipe Cambie wines, specifically his Halos de Jupiter. And I think Vieux Telegraph, Marcoux, la Roquète and Charvin, among others, do their CdP in concrete. Some do fermentation, some do aging.

Reply by penguinoid, Mar 12, 2013.

Outthere -- I made the comparison with barrels because some of the wines I've tried that have been aged or fermented in concrete are premium wines, where barrels could have been a viable alternative.

Thanks for the clarification re fermentation, I just assumed you only meant primary fermentation. My mistake. I tend to think of malolactic ferment as part of the tank/barrel aging process.

I've tried red wines that have been fermented and aged in concrete too, including a Côtes-du-Rhône. And whites that have been at least fermented in concrete too. Some of these could be drunk young, others kept.

I'm not sure the generalisation that only oak-aged wines can age is always correct -- try an old Hunter Valley Sémillon! They're invariably unoaked (normally fermented in stainless steel), bottled without malolactic fermentation being allowed to take place, and beautiful after 5, 10 or more years of bottle aging. Many aren't released on to the market till they've had five or so years bottle aging in the winery cellars. Tyrrel's Vat 1 is a perfect example.

The point is: concrete is used for a wide range of wines, red and white, age-worthy and not. All that matters is that the winemaker makes the decisions that they feel will give them the best quality wines possible from the fruit they have at hand. Deciding to ferment and/or age in concrete rather than stainless steel or oak is one decision they can make. Or not.

Reply by outthere, Mar 12, 2013.

Not saying that non barreled wines cannot age, Just that most of the time they aren't meant to.  And yes I am being very general in my response.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 12, 2013.

Lots of CdR and CdP gets made and aged, at least for a time, in concrete.  A fair bit of it never hits wood at all, or some portion of the blend sees no wood. 

No more comparing cement fermenting tanks to your septic system, please. ;-) We do need to drink, after all.

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