The other day, some friends of ours were surprised to hear that wine is sometimes aged in concrete.
But it turns out that this is nothing new: The Greeks and Romans used concrete fermentation and aging vessels from ancient times, but Northern European winemakers quickly turned to their abundant forests and oak casks as the industry developed there.
In the mid-20th Century, winemakers in the south of France returned to concrete for fermentation and aging, but they usually lined the tanks (first with epoxy and later with fiberglass) to make it easier to keep things clean. Since lined concrete is a neutral vessel, it’s not surprising that even easier to clean and control stainless steel tanks gradually took over from concrete as the 2oth Century drew to a close.
Going Back to Raw Concrete. Modern winemakers – like Bernard Fleuriet in Sancerre – are going back to the future by returning to the use of raw concrete for fermentation and aging. Because of its mass, concrete naturally stabilizes temperatures. And because it’s very slightly porous, it allows a tiny bit of air to very slowing mix in with the maturing wine, allowing it to soften a bit and gain some extra complexity.
And when the raw concrete vessel is shaped like an egg, something else magical happens. The egg shape promotes a slow, gentle, natural circulation of the wine. As the wine moves, it picks up the powdery, fine, lees – the spent yeast cells from fermentation – and keeps them mixed with the wine as it flows. The lees give the wine still more complexity of flavor, bringing out minerality to match the ripe grape fruit flavors, and making the texture of the wine a touch more creamy and deep.
Great Sauvignon fruit, raw concrete, and a funny egg shape all come together with the terrific Cote de Marloup vineyard and the outstanding 2016 Sancerre vintage to produce something pretty darn magical in today’s featured wine: the Fleuriet Sancerre Cote de Marloup! What must have been an almost painfully intense white wine at first has gained some roundness and richness of mouthfeel, but lost nothing of its vibrant cut and juicy, mouthwatering, acidity and minerality.
The 2016 Fleuriet Sancerre Cote de Marloup is certainly a brilliant seafood wine and will shine brightly with Sancerre’s classic Crottin de Chavignol goat cheese. But it’s also a mouthwatering solo sipper and will pair up nicely at table with salad, cold poultry, or pretty much any dish with a touch of citrus freshness. It’s ready to drink now – the extra year in bottle really shows! – and will keep on delivering delight for 3-4 years to come.