Saturday, August 23, 2014

Concrete and cement tanks in winemaking

Anytime I mention to some folks that some Italian wines are aged in concrete tanks I get a funny look and the curiosity sets in. Before stainless steel was introduced into winemaking in the 80's, concrete was a common method for aging or fermenting. You will find a lot of european “old world” producers still use cement today, but the idea is expanding into other parts of the world and you will find wineries in California using them as well.
Poliziano winery concrete / cement tank
Concrete tank at Poliziano winery

Benefits of cement tanks in winemaking
One of the biggest benefits to aging in concrete is the fact that the thickness and mass of the concrete creates a fantastic insulation for the contained wine. It's a less hands-on approach for the winemakers in terms of controlling the temperature where they don't have to fuss with it as opposed to the stainless steel tanks. Plus, concrete is much more cost effective than purchasing the oak barrels that hold less and have a high price tag to follow.

How does concrete affect the wine?
Typically when oak is used in winemaking it gives a lot of nuances to the wine including vanilla and butter. With the oak, some winemaker sometimes don't want the oak flavors imparted into the wine and will use older oak barrels than new barrels so that these flavors aren't as strong and overpowering.  With concrete tanks you may get a little minerality in the wine. It is similar to wood where it's a porous material. Some producers line the inside of the concrete with glass or wax so that it provides a neutral experience to the taste of the wine, plus it's easy to clean. 

A follow-up article will feature one producer in particular that uses this method in producing their wine. Stay tuned!

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