Clay To Cans: Wine Storage Has Come A Long Way, Baby

According to Archaeology.org, in 1996, archaeologists in northern Iran discovered some clay pot shards which were once used for wine storage.  After extensive testing, it was determined the wine was manufactured, not accidental fermentation, and it was 7000 years old.

Ancient wineries have been discovered in and near burial sites and religious temples around the world.  This expresses the mystical connection many faith systems have with the fruit of the vine.

I think all who appreciate a good glass of wine feels that connection.

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Clay Wine Storage

Since wine has been around for centuries, this means oenophiles have also been around awhile.  And where there are wine enthusiasts there are vast arrays of wine preservation methods.

Many ancient peoples used tree resin to seal their clay vats so air could not contaminate the precious liquid.  This practice gives the wine a most distinctive flavor and a color which is described as ‘orange’.  They were as particular with their clay as modern vintners are their barrels.

Some ancient cultures even mixed tree resin with the wine as a preservative.  This practice is still done, today, in places such as Greece.

By the 3rd Century AD, barrel making overtook the use of resins and clay in the west.  The eastern European countries, however, continued in their use.

 

Wooden Barrel Wine Storage

With the advent of wooden barrels storage and transport of wine were made easier.  Clay is heavy and breakable.  To transport wine on wooden sailing vessels and camels the containers had to be sturdy enough to make the trip.

A testament to this method can be still be seen in our time.   To this day, barrels are used for the storage of and aging of fine wines.

Like the tree resins of the past wooden barrels interact with the wine to enhance their flavors.  To date, we’ve not found any other way to duplicate this intimacy technologically.  This point continues to influence the anxiety of winemakers concerning which barrels they will and will not use.

Not just any old wood will do, either.  No, sir!  If you’ve spent time in wineries it doesn’t take much time before you hear this questioned asked:  Is this aged in French or American barrels?

Today, most vintners still use barrels constructed of French oak trees.  These barrels tend to be far more expensive.  Their manufacturing demands certain procedures be followed in order for the wood to be watertight.

Other wineries use American oak for their barrels.  American oak can be sawn instead of split, therefore, it’s much less expensive.

 

Why Oak for Wine Storage?

These two types of wood do impart different qualities to wine.  French oak (Quercus Petraea) has a much tighter grain and is less compressed than American white oak.  Because of this, the French oak conveys more delicate flavors and firmer, but silkier tannins.

Other barrel factors include “toast”, age, and size.  Barrels can be toasted light, medium, or dark.  This means how much time fire is used in the creation of the barrel.

The age of barrels also comes into play in the taste of wines.  After the first few runs, the barrels lose their ability to enhance the wines.

Size is also a consideration.  The smaller the barrel, the more the oak influences the wine.

Connoisseurs, as well as vintners, take extreme care as to which barrels are used and for how long.

I like to think of it like dating.  The first person you date may not be the right one for you long term but they help you to become the person you’re meant to be.

In the past, other types of wood were employed to store wine but those types of wood simply could not interact with wine the way oak does.  They worked more as nannies than mothers.

Much like a mother does with her children, oaken barrels caress the wine to reduce its stress, helping it to mature, and become an intelligent sophisticated pleasure to the palate instead of a harsh mistress.

 

Stainless Steel Wine Storage

Of course, not all wines are aged in oak barrels.  Crisp chardonnays as well as white Rieslings, like timid children with an overbearing mother, would lose their unique personalities if aged in oak.  These wines are aged in stainless steel tanks.

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Glass Wine Storage

This brings us to the bottling process.  Glass bottles have been around since at least 1500 BC but they were not widely used as wine storage until the 1600s. However, the vast majority of wine was stored in wooden barrels even into the 20th century.  Although, an ancient bottle of wine (still containing the wine!) is on display in the Historisches Museum der Pfalz (History Museum of the Pfalz) Museum in Speyer, Germany (see pictured above).  Slow and steady is the evolution of wine storage.

The first wine bottles were squat with fat bottoms and short thin necks.  Today, Bordeaux bottles (750ml) are considered the ‘standard’ in wine bottles.

The stopper of choice, since Roman times, has long been cork.  Although others did experiment with oily rags and such (yuck!).  Today, there are synthetic corks as well as screw top caps.

After a couple of hundred years, glass blowers figured out ways to make bottles which were longer and slimmer with softly tapering necks.

 

Plastic Wine Storage

The use of glass bottles in the storage and transportation of wine didn’t become popular, though, until the 20th century.  Since that time, however, we’ve jumped forward rather quickly having wine transported even in plastic (*gasp*!) containers.

That development has spurred many wine creators to reconsider the past.  No one wants to think of their wine as having spent time in a petrochemical container before it gets to their table.  Such a thought destroys the romanticism often associated with a bottle of wine.

There are some modern wine producers who have opted to return to the very ancient kvevri and amphorae.  These are large clay pots which are buried in the ground and sealed with beeswax or resin (as mentioned earlier).

 

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Canned Wine Storage

While these historical nomads may be in a class by themselves, it’s good to have the methods preserved.  It helps us to remain firmly woven into the tapestry of time.

As modernity encroaches and canned wine is now becoming a thing (yes, really), it is good to know traditional ways are still available to those of us who prefer it.

I am going to remain open-minded about the storage of wine in aluminum cans.  I mean, if ‘air and UV rays are the enemy’ cans seem to be the logical storage container.  It will keep out ALL air and sunlight.  Cans may not look as elegant as glass bottles, and they may not fit all situations, I can see where they’d come in handy.  Think of picnics, the beach, poolside.  The options are almost limitless.

 

Nino Narozauli, Wikimedia Commons

Summary

After all, many of us would like to own a cavernous underground cellar.  Not many of us can afford that.  Neither do many of us own enough property to bury huge wine casks.  Wine barrels are also expensive and unwieldy.   So we turn to the conveniences of our own time, electric wine coolers, to store our bottled and canned wines at perfectly set temperatures.

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