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Clay Pots make Great Grenache Blancs: appreciating the Art of Amphora

Josh and Gibsey standing with amphora tank.

What is an Amphora?

A Brief History into a Winemaking Tradition

Arche­ol­o­gists dis­cov­ered amphorae as long as 6,000 years ago, and it’s wide­ly believed by schol­ars that with­out this clay ves­sel inven­tion, wine­mak­ing would sim­ply not exist. Amphorae was uti­lized to fer­ment, trans­port, and store wine and vari­eties of oils. Amphorae are still in use today as a nod to nat­ur­al viti­cul­ture and his­to­ry. The ves­sels enable wine­mak­ers to cre­ate beau­ti­ful wines from organ­ic grapes with no or min­i­mal inter­ven­tion, just like it was done thou­sands of years ago. 

The shape of each ampho­ra was specif­i­cal­ly designed to pro­duce a dis­tinct type of wine, with the shape and mate­ri­als used to build the ampho­ra unique­ly adapt­ed to influ­ence fer­men­ta­tion. Keep­ing with tra­di­tion, today’s amphorae have a nar­row base, fill out around the mid­dle, then nar­row again at the top. Han­dles are some­times incor­po­rat­ed into mod­ern amphorae, but they are not typ­i­cal­ly used for trans­port as they were thou­sands of years ago.

The design of the ampho­ra encour­ages air flow, which pro­motes fer­men­ta­tion and gives the wine the abil­i­ty to breathe and devel­op into its fullest poten­tial. The design of amphorae allows the lees from the wine (dead yeast cells, cell mem­branes of pulp, stem and skin frag­ments) to be more con­cen­trat­ed toward the bot­tom, there­by leav­ing the liq­uid to gen­tly min­gle above. Vini­fy­ing the wine togeth­er with its lees results in added com­plex­i­ty, struc­ture and mouth feel.

For a deep­er dive into amphorae, read the Paso Rob­les Wine His­to­ry Project’s series on amphorae [https://​wine​his​to​rypro​ject​.org…]. Thibido Win­ery was thrilled to be recent­ly added to their Ampho­ra Trail Map list [https://​wine​his​to​rypro​ject​.org…].

How Amphorae Creates Delicious Wine

Clay ves­sels do won­drous things for wine and have an influ­ence on the final prod­uct, just like any viti­cul­ture ves­sel. Clay works to enhance acid­i­ty dur­ing the fer­men­ta­tion process, and the oxy­gen exchange with­in an ampho­ra is twice as fast as it is in a wood ves­sel. Wood bar­rels are a won­der­ous way to fer­ment wine, adding tan­nins, aro­mas, and fla­vors; clay negates all of those aspects and leaves us with a pure, bright, and fresh wine. Well-insu­lat­ing clay reg­u­lates tem­per­a­ture in such a way that the fer­men­ta­tion process is elon­gat­ed, result­ing in a high­er extrac­tion level. 

We use amphorae to cre­ate an intri­cate­ly refined Grenache Blanc, allow­ing the vari­etal char­ac­ter­is­tics to shine in its truest form. First Date was intro­duced into the ampho­ra direct­ly fol­low­ing the press dur­ing har­vest of 2020. The wine was then vini­fied on its lees and aged in the clay pot until bot­tling in March 2021.

This wine is bal­anced and fun, offer­ing fla­vors of green apple and hints of cit­rus with a creamy fin­ish. Com­prised of 100% Grenache Blanc, the bal­ance of fruit and acid is attrib­uted to the wine’s inte­gra­tion with the nat­ur­al clay of the tank. A sub­tle min­er­al­i­ty with a pleas­ant weight and tex­ture are also asso­ci­at­ed with the use of the ampho­ra. To expe­ri­ence the full fla­vor pro­file, enjoy this wine at 55 – 65 degrees, slight­ly warmer than the aver­age chilled white wine. 

White wine grenache blanc dinner summer

Bold Pairings

Grenache Blanc with Unexpected Bites

Grenache Blanc has a beau­ti­ful acid to com­ple­ment bold­ly fla­vored foods, spicy entrees, and even creamy tex­tures. Try it along­side spicy braised ribs, creamy blue cheese, pad Thai, or zesty pop­corn dust­ed with lemon zest and cayenne pep­per. Want to stay local? We love a glass of this crisp wine with some sliced Alle-Pia Cal­abrese Sala­mi and Steplad­der Creamery’s Ragged Point cheese, a bloomy rind triple crème. With a low alco­hol con­tent (13.5%) and the most min­i­mal Sul­phur add, Thibido Winery’s Grenache Blanc is easy drink­ing and a fit­ting intro­duc­tion to your next ladies’ brunch or fam­i­ly din­ner party.