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During the sixth and fifth centuries BC, the Etruscans, who lived north of Rome, increasingly imported Athenian ceramics decorated with scenes of Greek mythology, religion, and daily life. Made of fine, iron-rich clay that fired orange, decorated with a rich black gloss, and sometimes embellished with white and purple-red details, the ceramic vessels produced in Athens were the finest of Classical antiquity.
Etruscan artists, no doubt eager to capitalize on the high demand for Greek vases, and perhaps also hoping to attract customers unable to afford the imported wares, set up a workshop, probably at Vulci, to produce facsimiles of the Athenian vases. This vessel’s attenuated proportions and symmetrical profile create an especially elegant shape that belies the somewhat coarse texture of the local Etruscan clay from which it is made. The clay’s poor quality also stymied attempts to replicate the highly refined surface finishes of Athenian vases. Nevertheless, the painter of this vase skillfully composed his scenes within trapezoidal picture fields bounded above by a decorative pattern of interlacing lotus buds and dots and along its sides by a single line. On the front, a hound looks back at a horse and hunter, while a stag and hare flee for their lives on the back.
Gravner | Pottery Pioneer
Before he switched to amphorae, Josko Gravner had turned in his traditional casks for stainless steel. Gravner, whose vineyards lie in the heart of Friuli’s Collio zone in northeast Italy and stretch into Slovenia, later settled on barriques, believing these were essential for quality wine.
His rich, fragrant wines received critical acclaim, but still, he wasn’t satisfied. He went to California in 1987 for inspiration, but came back disillusioned.
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“I came home and told my wife that I was sick of conventional wines, which were going in the opposite direction of safeguarding the soil and authenticity,” says Gravner.
After studying the history of wine, he decided to go to Georgia, in the Caucasus region, where winemaking began.
Because of the country’s instability, Gravner waited until 2000 to make his way to the Caucasus. His first sip of wine there, ladled out of an interred amphora, changed his life.
“Amphorae amplify the good and bad in wine, so it’s essential to have perfect grapes.”
He returned home energized. Gravner imported several of the large amphorae (1,300–2,400 liters) to his winery in the hamlet of Oslavia. Following his new role models, he lined them with beeswax and buried them.
In 2001, he made his first wines in clay: Bianco Breg (a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico) and Ribolla Gialla, from the native grape of the same name. The first amphora wines were fermented with no selected yeasts, and stayed in contact with the grape skins for another six months, followed by three years of aging in large oak casks.
The amber-colored wines created a sensation when they were released. While some people were put off by their color and austere minerality, others were intrigued by their unfettered purity, dried apricot and honeyed sensations.
“Amphorae act like loudspeakers…” says Gravner. “They amplify the good and the bad in wine, so it’s essential to have perfect grapes.”
Gravner embraces biodynamic viticulture and uses no additives or technology in his cellars, not even temperature control. Starting from the 2007 vintage, his wines age seven years before being bottled. He’s phasing out international grapes to focus on Ribolla Gialla.
Gravner 2007 Bianco Breg (Venezia Giulia) $80, 93 points. Rich and smooth, this wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico. Fermented in amphorae and aged for six years in oak casks, it boasts flavors ranging from mature apricot to ginger. Drink through 2022. Domaine Select Wine & Spirits. Cellar Selection.
Gravner 2007 Ribolla (Venezia Giulia) $115, 93 points. This amber-hued wine is Gravner’s calling card. It helped kick off Italy’s orange wine movement and put Ribolla Gialla on the map. It’s not for everyone, but it’s an impressive effort that combines structure, restraint, depth and complexity. Domaine Select Wine & Spirits. Cellar Selection.
Giusto Occipinti and Giambattista Cilia / Photo by Susan Wright
The arak is then rested for several months in locally made clay amphora —clay pots traditionally used for arak production in a region where oak was scarce.
Some of the blend spent some of that time in cement egg-shaped vessels and terra-cotta amphora e.
And by the time the last American troops pulled out in 2011, the Iraqi amphora might not have looked like new.
The first vase in the engraving on the following page, which is exactly the shape of the classic amphora , is over three feet high.
Two slaves carrying a great amphora hanging from a pole swung between their shoulders, stopped near them a moment to rest.
Flies buzzed about their heads in clouds an amphora of water stood within their reach.
By this point the amphora was fastened into the soft earth, or the holes in the tap-room counters specially intended for them.
Here allusion is made to a hole in the stone floor designed to secure the amphora .
Clay can be thought of as a middle ground between steel and oak. Stainless steel allows for an oxygen-free environment and doesn’t impart any flavors into the wine. Oak, on the other hand, allows for ample oxygen to reach the juice, and the wood’s tannins can also affect the aromas and flavors of the wine.
Like oak, clay is porous, so it does allow for some oxygen giving the wine a deep and rich texture, but like steel it’s a neutral material that won’t impart any additional flavors.
From New- and Old-World wine regions alike, here are some amphora-aged wines you will want to seek out.
5 Tales Of Wine History From The Age Of The Exodus
At VinePair we love any excuse to delve into the history of wine. Recently we covered the history of wine centered on Purim and ancient Persia, and with Passover beginning tonight, we yet again have a great excuse to look at wine and history — two of our favorite subjects, especially since Passover specifically includes the requirement to consume four cups throughout the seder.
So what are we waiting for, let’s delve into the history of wine around the age of the Exodus.
The main theme of Passover is the enslaved Jewish people’s Exodus from Egypt. Jewish religious texts place the Exodus in the 2nd millennium BC. Many archaeologists, historians and other religious scholars, using clues from biblical texts, have pinned the date closer to the 1st millennium BC. Using that broad window of time as a jumping off point, we’re going to explore some interesting Bronze and Iron Age wine history from Egypt and Canaan.
This Is The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy
How Many Words Are There For Alcohol In The Hebrew Bible? Quite A Few Actually
How many different words does the Torah have for alcohol? It’s a bit complicated. We’ll stick to the two most common languages, Hebrew and the Greek translation. In the Hebrew version there are at least 10 different words for varying libations. The Koine Greek version narrows things down to five words. So where is all the variation happening in the Hebrew? We have yayin, the most common word for wine. But we quickly get into some precise ideas:
- ‘asis – Sweet or new wine, from the current year’s vintage
- mamsak / mesekh – Wine mixed with water and spices.
- Shekar – A strong drink ranging from 7 to 10 percent alcohol. This would include both wine or barely beers (aka barley wine).
Ancient Egypt’s Key Role In The Development Of Wine Storage
The ancient Egyptians played an important role in the storage and transportation of wine, making important technological advances, which helped prevent wines from spoiling. Most archaeologists and historians believe that wine made its way to ancient Egypt via trade. Preventing wine from spoiling via exposure to oxygen was a problem that plagued man for thousands of years. As ancient importers (and eventually producers) the Egyptians made their biggest contribution to wine in this field. The amphora, a ceramic jar, was the ancient world’s most common way of storing and transporting wine. A number of civilizations developed amphorae over thousands of years, but the Egyptians are credited with introducing standardized ones to facilitate the Mediterranean wine trade.
The Egyptians sealed their amphorae with reeds, wet clay and other bits of pottery. Other civilizations improved on the stoppers, but it wasn’t until the waning days of the Roman Empire that wooden barrels finally supplanted the amphorae as the best agreed upon way to transport wine.
The World’s First Wine Labels: Vintages For The Trip To The Other Side
The New Kingdom period in ancient Egyptian history ran from 1550 to 1070 BC. By this time the Egyptians were growing their own wine in the fertile lands of the Nile Delta. While the Egyptians drank wine regularly, they, like many other civilizations, believed it had a divine origin, in large part due to the combination of its intoxicating effect and a lack of understanding of how fermentation occurred.
When many of the pharaohs were entombed for their trip to the afterlife, their chambers were filled with wine, among other valuable goods. And not just any wine. When Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings was unearthed, 26 wine jars were discovered. Each bore an inscription describing the (long ago evaporated) wine it contained. Like a modern label these inscriptions recorded the wine, the source, the vintage and in some cases even the vintner: “Year Four. Wine of very good quality of the House-of-Aton of the Western River. Chief vintner Khay.” Other jars appear to have contained white wine, which was most likely imported from abroad.
Osiris Plays The Role Of Dionysus
The Greek god Dionysus, the god of wine, had a counterpart in Ancient Egypt. Though the ancient Egyptians didn’t form worshipful cults around a god of wine, like the Greeks (and later the Romans), they did share the belief that wine had divine origins. The most common school of thought on this is that Osiris, the god of the dead, the underworld and the afterlife, was responsible for introducing wine to man. This aligns nicely with the verifiable fact that the pharaohs surrounded themselves with wine for their trip to the afterlife.
Ancient Real Estate Records For Canaan: The Wine Is On The Deed
In an area of Canaan that corresponds to present-day Southwestern Syria archaeologists have unearthed cuneiform tablets detailing real estate transactions. The common unit of measurement for a residential property? A house together with its watchtower, its olive grove and its vineyard. You can see a reference to this in the Book of Nehemiah. If you’re presently house hunting, we’d say that the lack of an included olive grove and vineyard is a deal-breaker. The watchtower is negotiable.
There were four major pottery styles of ancient Greece: geometric, Corinthian, red-figure and black-figure pottery.21 Jul 2015
Made of terracotta (fired clay), ancient Greek pots and cups, or “vases” as they are normally called, were fashioned into a variety of shapes and sizes (see above), and very often a vessel’s form correlates with its intended function. Or, the vase known as a hydria was used for collecting, carrying, and pouring water.
Amphora and Lid (Storage Vessel) with Chariot Race
Label Text Exekias was the most famous of Greek black-figure vase painters and potters. His name is signed as the potter of this amphora (“Exekias made me”) at the upper left.
Because chariots were no longer used in warfare, these are probably racing chariots. Each side of the vase shows one of the competitors in a quadriga (four-horse chariot). On the front, the helmeted warrior is identified by the inscription “Stesias is handsome.” Two of his horses, Kalliphora (“beautiful mane and tail”) and Pyrichos (“fiery, red-brown”) are also named, suggesting they had achieved their own fame. The competing driver is Anchipos. From the more lavish identification of driver and horses, we can guess that handsome Stesias is the winner.
"Acquisitions," Antiques World, vol. 4, no. 2, Dec. 1981, p. 94, repr.
Andrews, Peter, "A View of Toledo," Connoisseur, vol. 212, no. 849, Nov. 1982, p. 110, repr. p. 107.
Bell, Evelyn E., "An Exedian puzzle in Portland: further light on the relationship between Exekias and Group E," in Ancient Greek art and iconography, Madison, 1983, 1983, pp. 83-86, repr. 5.2 a-d, pp. 82-83.
Moon, Warren G., "Some new and little-known vases by the Rycroft and Priam Painters," in Greek Vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum, vol. 2, Malibu, 1985, p. 55.
Horowitz, Frederick A., More than you see: a guide to art, New York, 1985, repr. p. 62.
Kaylon, Melik, "I'd first save," Connoisseur, vol. 218, no. 912, Jan. 1988, p. 78.
Boulter, Cedric G., and Kurt T. Luckner, Corpus vasorum antiquorum: Toledo Museum of Art, U.S.A. Fasc. 20, Mainz, 1984, pp. 10, 11, pl. 81, 82, 83.
Turley, Robert, Humanities: the Western creative heritage, a student handbook, Dubuque, 1991, repr. title page and cover.
The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo treasures, Toledo, 1995, p. 38, repr. 2 sides, (col.).
Reich, Paula, Toledo Museum of Art: map and guide, London, Scala, 2005, p. 8, repr. (col.) and det. (col.) and title page.
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Museum of Art Masterworks, Toledo, 2009, p. 70, repr. (col.).
Reich, Paula, Toledo Museum of Art: Map and Guide, London, Scala, 2009, p. 8, repr. (col.)
See also Beazley, John D., The Development of Attic Black-figure, Berkeley, 1941, pp. 63-72, (on Exekias) and pp. 63-64 (on Louvre amphora F53).
See also Beazley, John D., Atiic Black-figure Vase-painters, Oxford, 1956, pp. 133-138 (Group E and Exekias cf. specifically no. 49).
See also Boardman, John, Athenian Black Figure Vases, New York, 1974, pp. 56-58 (on Exekias).
See also Moore, Mary B., "Horses by Exekias," American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 72, 1968, pp. 357-368, pls. 119-122.
Though this vessel, called an amphora ("carried by two handles" in ancient Greek), is a functional storage jar for wine, oil, or grain, the chariot race painted on its surface suggests it was an object valued far beyond its usefulness. The scenes reflect a focus on the human figure that is unprecedented in Greek vase painting—an innovation traced to a group of Athenian black-figure vase painters collectively known as Group E for the one artist among them whose name has been recorded, the celebrated Exekias, who signed Toledo's vase as its potter.<p>
Both sides of this amphora show a quadriga (four-horse chariot) competing in a race. The pursed-lipped driver whistles to his team, and a foot soldier in full armor stands in the chariot, his heroic importance emphasized by the crest of his helmet breaking through the lotus-palmette frame at top. The images on the two sides look identical at first glance, but the painter has carefully differentiated many details to reveal winner and loser. He also writes their names: Stesias is the winner (on the front) and Anchippos is the loser (on the back). Both men must have been well-known, for the names appear on other vases of this period. Two of Stesias's horses are also named: Kalliphora ("a horse with a beautiful mane and tail") and Pyrichos ("a fiery, red-brown horse").<p>
The vase represents the exciting moment in the race when the two chariots make the final turn around the <i>stadion</i> post in fact, this is the earliest known rendering of a chariot turning in three dimensions. The nobility of the horses and the nervous cadence of their raised front legs compared to the even rhythm of their firmly planted hind legs are all drawn with a outstanding economy of line typical of Exekias and the innovative Group E artists.
Human Figure, Animal, Military, Horses, Chariots, Warriors, Shields, Spears
Side A: A four-horse chariot wheels to the right. In the chariot are a warrior and driver. The warrior is bearded, wears an Attic helmet, down, a short chiton and a corslet. He has a circular shield slung over his shoulder and carries a spear. The driver wears a pilos. chiton and nebris. He holds a goad in his right hand, and reins in his left. There is a Boeotian shield at his back, secured by a white strap. The pole horses face the front, the trace horses are in profile. All the horses wear ornamented breast bands and all except the right trace horse have top knots. The chariot wheels are foreshortened. Above the panel is a double palmette and lotus chain. The panel bears the signature of Exekias as potter, and the names of two horses, Kalliphora and Pyrichos.
Side B: A four-horse chariot wheels to the right as on Side A. The two sides are almost identical, but there are some slight differences: the warrior leans forward there is a crescent-like appendage atop the driver's hat, and his beard is less detailed no added white on the foreheads of the pole horses topknots on all the horses. Above the panel are lotus and palmetttes, but, unlike the arrangement on Side A, here addorsed lotuses alternate with addorsed palmettes. There is but one name inscribed, Anchippos, presumably that of the warrior. On B much more of the tail of the right trace horse is cut off than on A.
[email protected] wrote it first 500 years ago
The ubiquitous symbol of internet era communications, the @ sign used in email addresses, is actually a 500 year old invention of Italian merchants, a Rome academic has revealed.
Giorgio Stabile, a professor of the history of science at La Sapienza University, claims to have stumbled on the earliest known example of the symbol's use, as an indication of a measure of weight or volume.
He said the @ sign represented an amphora, a measure of capacity based on the terracotta jars used to transport grain and liquid in the ancient Mediterranean world.
The first known instance of its use, he said, occurred in a letter written by a Florentine merchant on May 4, 1536.
Sent from Seville to Rome by a trader called Francesco Lapi, the document describes the arrival in Spain of three ships bearing treasure from Latin America.
"There, an amphora of wine, which is one thirtieth of a barrel, is worth 70 or 80 ducats," Mr Lapi informs his correspondent, representing the amphora with the now familiar symbol of an "a" wrapped in its own tail.
The Spanish word for the @ sign, arroba , also indicates a weight or measure, which was equivalent, at the end of the 16th century, to 11.3kg (25 lb) or 22.7 litres (six gallons).
"Until now no one knew that the @ sign derived from this symbol, which was developed by Italian traders in a mercantile script they created between the middle ages and the renaissance," Prof Stabile said. "The loop around the 'a' is typical of that merchant script."
The professor unearthed the ancient symbol in the course of research for a visual history of the 20th century, to be published by the Treccani Encyclopedia.
He said the sign, known to modern Italian cybernauts as la chiocciola (the snail), had made its way along trade routes to northern Europe where it took on its contemporary accountancy meaning: "at the price of".
Having hopped on to English typewriter keyboards in the early 20th century, it was selected as a rarely used symbol to separate user names from domain addresses by the American internet engineer Ray Tomlinson.
Prof Stabile believes that Italian banks may possess even earlier documents bearing the symbol lying forgotten in their archives.
"The oldest example could be of great value. It could be used for publicity purposes and to enhance the prestige of the institution that owned it," he said.
Internet users of various tongues have adopted metaphors ranging from an elephant's trunk to a monkey's tail and even a cinnamon roll to describe the now ubiquitous squiggle.
The inventors of the "snail" would doubtless be proud to learn that they were the progenitors of such a successful sign, also known, somewhat unromantically in English, as "commercial at".
"No symbol is born of chance. This one has represented the entire history of navigation on the oceans and has now come to typify travel in cyberspace," Prof Stabile said.
"Venice is the maritime city that continued to use the amphora weight unit the longest, but Florence is the foremost city of banking. The race is on to see who has the oldest document."
New World Clay Experiments
While historic wine regions are showing renewed interest in making wine in clay vessels, New World winemakers have also launched experiments. Beckham, of Oregon’s Beckham Estate Vineyard, came to winemaking after 17 years as a ceramicist, and he’s experimented extensively with clay vessels. He makes two historically referenced shapes, the dolium and the tinaja, which range in size from around 151 liters to about 757 liters. All his pots are unlined and are able to hold wine without any beeswax.
Like Dakishvili, Beckham calls out the temperature-regulating properties of clay as one of its primary benefits. “Two tons of grapes will ferment for 30 to 35 days with peak temperatures around 20° to 22°C [68° to 71.6°F] in clay,” Beckham says. “While the same two tons of grapes in non-temperature-controlled wood or steel will finish fermenting in 10 or 11 days. The temperatures will max out around 30°C [86°F]!” The lower temperatures for clay-fermented wines create brighter and fresher wines.
Regarding shape specifically, there are advantages to using dolium versus tinajas, as well as varying usage between the two. The wide-top opening in dolia makes these a preferable vessel for primary fermentations of red wine and skin-contact white, as it allows the pomace cap to rise and the must to be strained from the juice. For any pressed wine, Beckham uses the more tapered tinaja. “Because of the [their] shape and kinetic quality, [tinajas] work like an egg and always maintain a state of turbidity.” Fermenting wine is forced into circular motions, rising up the concave sides and then falling down the middle. The wines’ continuous motion carries everything in its wake, including lees. “If you look in the top,” says Beckham, “you can see the vortex. In fact, we don’t have to do any battonage!”
Beckham also tests firing temperatures to make vessels with different levels of porosity. As the firing temperature increases, the pot becomes less porous. He fires the pots over a spectrum of 100 degrees. “Those at the lower end of the temperature spectrum weep and sweat—the wines have more gas exchange and are the most expressive,” he says. “At the high end of the spectrum, the vessels are vitrified and the wines are much more reductive and the vessel is tight.” That’s allowed him to experiment as a winemaker would in deciding to use oak barrels from a particular forest, or cooperage because of its grain size and toasting. In general, Beckham finds that the clay allows oxygen into the wine twice as fast as wood. But the subtleties of oxygen transfer at each temperature constitute additional variables that he and other winemakers can use to their advantage.
Vessels fired at higher temperatures have practical benefits: None of Beckham’s vessels need to be buried underground to prevent leaking, or to be lined with beeswax, as classic qvevri would. And while lined clay is usually easier to clean, these unlined pots can be cleaned with high-pressure hot water without fear of cracking the pots.
In his efforts to better understand clay-aged wine, Beckham tracks a slew of other analytics. He notes that the clay reacts enzymatically with wine and raises its pH by pulling out acids. “I took a Riesling with a pH of 2.8, and in just two months, it went to 4,” he says. This effect can be lessened by treating a new pot with hot water, and it can be used practically to soften the edges of very acidic wines.
Another benefit of clay is its natural clarification properties. While many winemakers stir in negatively charged diatomaceous earth to fine their wine, clay pots have this property built in. “If you look at a wine aged in clay versus wood,” says Beckham, “the wine in clay will look like it’s been fined.”
Beckham uses homemade clay vessels for his A.D. MMXV Amphora series wines, including two Pinot Noirs, a Pinot Gris, a Grenache, and a Syrah-Viognier. All this work has been leading Beckham to bringing a proprietary vessel to the market, which he’s calling Novum. “I want people to go into wineries and say, Oh that’s a Novum—like someone might say of Kleenex,” he says. The 350-liter vessels are shaped like the wide-mouthed, flat-bottomed dolium. With Novum, Beckham anticipates producing and selling 50 vessels for the forthcoming 2018 vintage, with plans to expand production in 2019. The price has yet to be set but most likely will be several thousand dollars.
Andrew Beckham posing with his Novum fermentation and aging vessels. Photo by Peter Weltman.
After the near-extinction of clay vessels from the world of winemaking, it’s fascinating that they’re reemerging in Old and New World countries. And while McGovern continues to lead the historical research at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, he’s looking excitedly to the future, sensing that today, as in the past, “this area of research and practice should dramatically transform the world of wine.”
Peter Weltman is a sommelier and entrepreneur based in San Francisco who explores native grapes from ancient sources. He writes for global food publications, gives speeches on wine activism, and creates immersive experiences about his movement, Borderless Wine . Find out where he’s reporting from next on Instagram .