A Clay-Made Dinner: Ceramic Grill and Amphora Wine #WinePW

August Wine Pairing Weekend: Amphora Wines
This month, our Wine Pairing Weekend writers and cooks are exploring foods paired with wines from amphora. Take a look farther down in this post for links to lots of good cooking ideas and wines to match! My post combines an amphora wine with a meal cooked on my ceramic grill. Clay all over the place!

(Click on any photo in this post for a full size slide show, close to return to the post)

What’s an Amphora?
Amphora, amfora, anfora, qvervri, concrete egg, concrete tank are all variations on a theme to allow microscopic amounts of oxygen to enter the container without imparting any flavors from the traditional wood barrel. The ceramic material offers some insulation to minimize temperature changes. Qvervri are designed to be buried in the earth and are only accessed from the top. Amphora (all spellings!) were originally used in transporting wine, and later used in winemaking. Amphora are made to sit on the ground, not buried. Sometimes the inner surface of these vessels is sealed, other times the clay/ceramic material is unsealed, allowing more oxygen transmission. The vessels may be used only for aging the wine, or they may be used for both fermentation and aging. When used for both, the grape skins, seeds and stems may be left in contact for weeks or even months. Concrete tanks of a variety of sizes are typical in many parts of the world for similar reasons, the desire to allow micro-oxygenation with no flavor influence from wood. Relative to the big concrete tanks, amphora allow more oxygen transfer. Amphora are most often used for skin-fermented wines such as red wines and orange wines. Today’s preference for absolute freshness in white wines means they are typically fermented and aged in stainless steel to eliminate any oxygen and to preserve that fruity fresh character.

Ceramic Grill
This month, we drink ceramic fermented and aged wines and eat food cooked in our ceramic grill! I’m a big fan of my Primo ceramic grills. A ceramic grill features a thick (and heavy) outer ceramic shell, plus an inner ceramic bowl for holding the charcoal. These grills allow many-hour smoking at a low temperature while also allowing fast cooking pizza at over 600° F! The insulating and moisture retaining properties of the ceramic are unique and that heavy, thick ceramic means the grill doesn’t care if the outside temperature is 90° or -10°. Note: this is very useful in Minnesota!

Alentejo is in the south of Portugal, just east of Lisbon. Map courtesy of Wines of Alentejo

With the exception of Port, wines from Portugal are virtually unknown. Let’s change that! There are delicious wines from all over the country. The region of Alentejo is in the south, just east of Lisbon. Hint: easy day trip wine touring in Alentejo if you’re visiting Lisbon. The region is working to promote their wines internationally, with lots of good information on their Wines of Alentejo website. The amphora tradition came from ancient Rome, and to their credit, winemakers in this region never gave up on this old approach. This is one of the few regions in all of Europe with special DOC recognition of this type of wine with the Vinho de Talha DOC.

Disclosure: The wine for this post was a sample. No other compensation was involved, all opinions expressed are mine.

Herdade do Rocim “Amphora” Vinho de Talha, Alentejo DOC

Herdade Do Rocim “Amphora” Alentejo Vinho de Talha DOC 2019 (sample, $18 SRP or online here) 13.0% abv
This wine consists of lesser known local grapes: Moreto 50%, Tina Grossa (30%), Trincadeira (15%) and Aragonez (5%). It was made by traditional methods in clay amfora without temperature control. Native yeasts performed the fermentation without any corrections or additions to the must.
Eye: deep ruby
Nose: medium plus intensity aromas of ripe blueberries, blackberries, plums with some dried prunes and black pepper.
Mouth: Dry, medium plus acidity, medium fine grained tannins, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity flavors, medium finish. Flavors echo the aromas and while not at all sweet, the wine is intensely fruity.
Observations: This wine really shone with food. We enjoyed it with chuck roast smoked on the grill with a peppery rub. The smoky peppery flavors of the meat were nicely balanced by the intense fruit from the wine.

Posts With Wine Pairings From Our Writers
There are amphora wines being made all over the world. Take a look below at both wine discoveries and delicious food pairings. Then, why not join our chat on Saturday August 14 10-11am CDT on Twitter at #WinePW?

Recipe Notes
I set up my grill for split direct/indirect heating. This includes coals on 1/2 of the bottom of the grill, with a ceramic plate on the non-coals side to offer lower temperature and indirect heat. I included a couple of foil wrapped applewood chunks to create smoke. After starting, I adjusted the grill for a 300-350°F dome temperature. Baby yukon gold potatoes were smoked in a cast iron pan for about 30 minutes, then removed. Once the potatoes were going, I added the chuck roast. The roast had been rubbed with a beef rub from our friends Mary and Sean at Vindulge. The smoked potato salad came from a recipe from Amy Glaze, who I found on Instagram. She’s a creative chef and a skilled photographer!

11 Responses to “A Clay-Made Dinner: Ceramic Grill and Amphora Wine #WinePW”
  1. New to me grapes!! I know so little about Portuguese wine and grapes outside of Touriga Nacional. Off to look up these grapes now!

  2. wendyklik says:

    Well we had the same idea but I didn’t have an actual clay tian to use. Love the pairings you made and I am a little jealous of your egg. I have a gas grill and I have a Traeger smoker and I love them both but I can’t cook both ways on either of them.

  3. Lots of great information about this important but little known subject. Super impressed with this wine myself! PS I’d better not show this post to my spouse — he might get ideas! Also that table!

  4. David says:

    The wine sounds like a great value! I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it and others from the Alentejo region. The clay grill sounds very effective for a wide range of grilling projects.

  5. Nicole Ruiz Hudson says:

    That looks like a fantastic meal — so jealous of all of your outdoor grilling toys. We’re in an apartment, so always look on at outdoor grilling with drooling envy! The wines sound fantastic as well.

  6. Lynn says:

    All your posts that include this ceramic grill are tempting me to purchase one!

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