Egg-citing Winemaking: Are Wine Eggs The Secret to Perfect Wine?
Wine eggs, or concrete eggs, offer a unique vessel for fermenting and ageing wine. Shaped like an egg, these vessels promote natural convection during fermentation and can help to extract flavours and colours from the grape skins while preventing the formation of solids.
From ancient civilisations to modern-day enthusiasts, people have long sought ways to improve the taste and quality of beloved wine. One innovation that has gained popularity in recent years is the wine egg. This article will explore the history of wine eggs, their advantages and disadvantages, and their use in modern winemaking. We will also examine the impact of wine eggs on the flavour and aroma of wine and discuss how they compare to traditional wine barrels. Whether you are a wine enthusiast or a winemaker, this article will provide valuable insights into the unique world of wine eggs.
What is a wine egg?
In the wine industry, a wine egg is a type of vessel used for fermentation and ageing wine. It is typically made of concrete or ceramic and has a distinctive egg shape, with a wider base and a narrower top.
The egg shape is thought to benefit the wine during fermentation and ageing by promoting the natural circulation of the wine, which can result in a more even distribution of temperature and oxygen.
The egg shape also helps to minimise the formation of sediment. It provides a large surface area for the wine to come into contact with the vessel, which can impart unique flavour characteristics to the wine.
Do you know what wine eggs are and why they are used?
These egg-shaped vessels are becoming increasingly popular among winemakers due to their unique shape, allowing for more gentle wine circulation during fermentation and ageing. The egg shape also reduces the surface area-to-volume ratio, creating a more consistent temperature and preventing oxidation.
Wine eggs are made of concrete, wood, or stainless steel. The material used to make the wine egg can also contribute to the flavour, aroma, and texture of the wine. For example, concrete can promote a slow, steady rate of oxygenation, while oak wood can impart flavours and aromas to the wine. However, the most important factors in winemaking are always the quality of the ingredients and the knowledge and skill of the winemaker.
Why does the circling occur?
The circulation or convection that occurs in a wine egg during fermentation is due to the shape of the vessel. The egg shape is wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, creating a natural liquid flow as carbon dioxide (CO2) is released during fermentation.
As the yeast rises to produce CO2, it creates a circular motion in the wine, flowing up along the sides of the egg and back down to the centre. This natural circulation helps to keep the wine in constant motion and can provide several benefits.
For example, it can help to promote more even fermentation and extraction of flavours and colours from grape skins.
It can also help to prevent the formation of solids, such as lees, which can settle at the bottom of a tank or barrel and cause issues with clarity and flavour.
In addition, the egg shape creates a large surface area-to-volume ratio, which can help to promote a consistent temperature throughout the wine.
The shape can also help prevent oxidation, as there is less surface area exposed to the air than a flat-bottomed tank or barrel. All of these factors can contribute to the unique flavour and aroma characteristics that are associated with wines that have been fermented or aged in wine eggs. Many claims that this process of circulation enriches the wine. However, there are also a lot of sceptics, so it is still the subject of research and discussion…
Why are the wine eggs made of concrete?
Wine eggs can be made of wood or stainless steel, or concrete.
Concrete is a popular material for making wine eggs due to its properties, which can benefit the wine during fermentation and ageing. Here are some reasons why concrete is often used:
- Porosity: Concrete is porous, which means it allows for a gentle exchange of air and can promote a slow, steady rate of oxygenation. This can help develop complex flavours and aromas in the wine and contribute to a smoother, rounder mouthfeel.
- Thermal mass: Concrete has a high thermal mass, which means it can absorb and retain heat. This can help to create a more stable temperature environment for the wine during fermentation and ageing, as the concrete can absorb excess heat during the day and release it slowly at night.
- Neutral flavour: Concrete is a neutral material, which means it does not impart any flavours or aromas of its own onto the wine. This allows the natural flavours and aromas of the grapes to shine through and can contribute to a more authentic expression of the terroir.
- Durable and long-lasting: Concrete is a durable material that can last for decades with proper care and maintenance. This can make it a cost-effective choice for winemakers who want a vessel that will last for many years.
Overall, the use of concrete wine eggs can help to produce wines with unique flavours, aromas, and textures that are highly sought after by wine enthusiasts.
Can wine eggs be made of wood or stainless steel?
Wine eggs can also be made of wood or stainless steel, although the characteristics of the vessel will be different compared to concrete.
Wooden wine eggs are typically made of oak, which is a traditional material used in winemaking due to its ability to impart flavours and aromas to the wine. Oak can contribute to a more complex, nuanced flavour profile with vanilla, spice, and toast notes. However, oak is also a porous material, making it difficult to clean and sanitise. As a result, wooden wine eggs are more commonly used for ageing wine rather than for fermentation.
Stainless steel wine eggs are another option for winemakers. Stainless steel is a non-porous material that is easy to clean and sanitise, making it a popular choice for fermentation vessels. Stainless steel wine eggs are also lightweight and durable and can be easily transported from one location to another. However, stainless steel does not allow for any oxygen exchange, which can limit the development of certain flavour and aroma characteristics in the wine.
In summary, while concrete is the most popular material used for wine eggs, wooden and stainless steel wine eggs can also be used depending on the desired flavour profile and winemaking process.
Are Wines made in Wine Eggs better?
Essentially, a concrete egg fermenter enables winemakers to preserve a wine’s fruity essence while avoiding the reductive effects of stainless steel. Additionally, it enhances the wine’s texture without introducing any oak flavours.
Like traditional wooden barrels, a wine egg is a tool winemakers use to create wine. Most important are always the ingredients and knowledge of the one who uses it.
While wine eggs and barrels can contribute to the wine’s flavour, aroma, and texture, they are not the only factors determining the final product. The quality of the grapes or other fruits used, the timing of the harvest, the methods of processing, and the choices made during fermentation and ageing all play important roles in the final outcome.
Moreover, the knowledge and experience of the winemaker are critical in making the right decisions at every stage of the winemaking process. This includes decisions about when to harvest, how to ferment, and how long to age the wine in the wine egg or barrel. Without the expertise of the winemaker, even the best ingredients and equipment may not result in a great wine.
Therefore, while wine eggs can contribute to the character of a wine, they are only one aspect of winemaking, and the final product is always the result of a combination of factors, with the winemaker’s skill being crucial.