Trendy (and pricey) egg-shaped vessels produce wines of greater depth and complexity.
A RECENT TREND in winemaking is the concrete egg, a vessel winemakers are using with increasing frequency to produce wines of greater depth and complexity.
These vessels are usually shaped like large eggs, and look something like what Mork used to travel to Earth in the old sitcom.
Despite their considerable cost (around $27,000 to buy and ship just one from France), they are making their way into more cellars in the Pacific Northwest.
Three to try
These three wines were made entirely or partially in concrete eggs:
Côte Nicault 2014, Red Mountain, $75: This GSM-style blend is part of the Long Shadows family of wines, and winemaker Gilles Nicault made the Mourvèdre entirely in cement. The resulting blend is loaded with aromas and flavors of ripe plum, blackberry and layers of complexity, including hints of Herbs de Provence. Available primarily through the wine club.
Columbia Crest Reserve 2014 Coyote Canyon Vineyard syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, $35: Made entirely in concrete, this smooth and delicious syrah opens with aromas of nutmeg, ripe plum and blackberry pie, followed by flavors of boysenberry, sage and dark chocolate, backed by smooth suppleness leading to a long finish.
Dance Cellars 2015 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $37: A third of this was made in concrete, with the rest in oak. As a result, it’s a nuanced wine with layers of minerality and brightness, alongside flavors of tropical fruit, hints of butter and a full mouth feel.
Juan Muñoz Oco, head winemaker for Columbia Crest in Paterson, is a big believer in the eggs, having deployed 16 of the vessels in his operation. He uses them primarily for his reserve wine program — 20 percent of that tier now is made in concrete.
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The egg shape has many advantages, one being that desirable solids in the wine are kept naturally suspended in the juice during fermentation and aging, creating different layers of flavor complexity and mouth feel. Winemakers like how the vessels breathe, allowing oxygen transfer similar to oak barrels.
Not all concrete tanks are eggs. They also come in square, conical, pyramid and tulip shapes, and Muñoz Oca likes each for different applications. Winery architects like them for the dramatic flair they can add to a “barrel” room.
Concrete holds temperatures well, though it isn’t as flexible as, say, stainless steel in quickly cooling or heating wines during the winemaking process. In fact, the concrete is surprisingly fragile to temperature swings — more than one such investment has been inadvertently and tragically cracked while being rinsed with hot water.
Gilles Nicault, winemaker for Long Shadows in Walla Walla, likes the eggs because they will impart a minerality to chardonnay he prefers over flavors from oak. In fact, the use of concrete is part of the overall movement away from oak, as winemakers push for more flavors that impart a purity of fruit unadulterated by oak flavors.