03 Mar Survey about cement tanks
Investigative report by Winesurf about cement tanks: what producers, oenologists and consumers think
Winesurf investigative report about cement tanks had a lot of interesting and detailed answers. For this reason, first of all, all people that dedicated their time to answer deserve our thank. Moving forward, we are going to analyze the answers in detail, summarizing the focus points of each answer.
Carlo Boscaini from Valpolicella has been using cement tanks for fifty years and during recent years the company bought many of those, but smaller. He thinks they are useful especially for red ageing wines, because if this kind of wine stays into cement and not steel, until it is put into wood, it reduces much less. According to Carlo, the cement revival is due to the temperature stability and, as we said, the smaller or absent reduction of the wine in cement. He does not think that the cement gives particular aromatic characteristics to wine.
The legacy of Giacomo Tachis
Fausto Perathoner from Maso Grener cellar from Trento, does not use cement tanks now, but he used to have them in the past, also in Croatia. Before answering to our questions he reported a beautiful anecdote: “I had the pleasure (and the honour) to spend much time with Doct. Tachis and during a visit to my cellar (during Nineties, I was working in Trentino) he noticed that there were two excavators dismantling some cement tanks to give space to stainless steel winemaker. When Tachis came back to Tuscany he wrote me a friendly but very critic letter about the fact that he had to see such an important heritage being demolished. He ended his letter affirming that soon the cement was going to come back instead of technological winemakers! Also in that occasion he was right.”
For him, wines made in cement, were they white (riesling/pinot Grigio) or red (Cabernet/Merlot) from the sensorial point of view were always very clean and open to the nose (but not oxidizing) and savoury and rounded to the mouth. Normally, wines made into cement were ready in less time, but did not have a shorter life.
Talking about our question on the main reasons of the cement revival, he thinks that in many cases there are more reasons in communication than substance or actual verifications. He thinks that the homologation of many wines (for denomination or production area) that we saw during last 20 years, together with raising quality levels, is one of the reasons that stimulate researches to try alternatives and, in a certain way, come back to past.
More than a simple fermentation
Angelo Bertacchini, freelancer for many cellars, recommends to his customers that have red ageing wines, to substitute the steel with the cement. He admits that twenty years ago his opinion was different but the experience made him reevaluate the cement. He also adds: “In my opinion they are much useful if used for long refinements, as an alternative to the use of barrels.” Moreover “For wines that have particularly low quantity of tannins and antocyanins, this represents an optimum instrument to facilitate the stabilization of the coloring matter, without radically influencing the wine taste with the wood.” This is undoubtedly an interesting vision.
Francesco Brigatti from Alto Piemonte says: “I have always used cement tanks for Nebbiolo grape, for both fermentation and storage before bottling. During the fermentation I have more stable and uniform temperature with better extraction, moreover managing the malolactic fermentation is easier. “During past, in Alto Piemonte cement tanks were just used for fermentation but today things are changed.” Anyway he points out “They are useful for Nebbiolo, that has a more difficult fermentation and because climate temperature are often lower as it is the last grape to be harvested, while the vespolina fermentation is more successful inside steel.” Anyway also for him a cement wine has less reduction than in steel.
Hannes Rottensteiner, producer from Alto Adige, also introduces a piece of history. She has cement tanks since 1956 but those of that time were too big for her company’s current characteristics, for this reason she uses the smaller nowadays. They were provided with a refrigeration system. She stands that “I believe they are a valuable alternative to the wood for fermentation. Even after fermentation they are practically in the middle between wood (very oxydizing) and steel (sometimes too reducing).”
She thinks they are more useful for “Robust red wines, with a level of tannins to be smoothed, but where the producer wants to maintain the fruit, that would be lost in the wood; wines that tolerate higher fermentation temperatures; wines that need to make the malolactic: in this case they are useful because they are able to maintain the temperature.”
Stefano Cinelli Colombini from Montalcino, after starting by saying that his company uses cement tanks since Nineteenth Century, claims that: “In Tuscany, wines made with a sangiovese base, tend to oxydize easier, that is why they can be damaged by barriques and similar small containers, where there is a high oxygen turnover. Moreover, those little jars with very thin staves, cannot isolate, so they suffer temperature jumps. All this risks to accellerate too much the process of wine ageing, so we must use it with caution. Anyway Tuscan sangiovese is very acid and rich of tannins, so it needs a long maturation and refinement period, before going on the market. The vetrified cement tanks are perfect for this purpose, they are good isolating and do not let oxygen pass, slowing down the ageing process at the maximum level. Furthermore, and this is much relevant, vetrified cement tanks allow a slow evolution of wines in a low oxydating environment. The result are perfectly matured wines but fresher.” He closes by saying that “Who works in a good way never stopped using cement tanks, while who follows fashion threw them and now buys them again.”
Ofelia Bartolucci, from the Romagna’s cellar Enio Ottaviani, where there are even 47 cement tanks, which are foundamental to them, starts from far away by saying that “cement during Sixties was sinonimous os social cellar” so it was not considered for high quality wines production. To her “Cement is an intermediate winemaking jar, between wood and steel. It makes – as a minimum part – the work that a big wood barrel can do, with some interesting exceptions: for instance, a constant and gradual micro-oxygenation with the external environment (a dialogue among wine, cement and the environment, with gradual constancy). At the contrary the wood is affected by thermal changes, and the steel as well. Moreover, the cement – backwards to the wood – does not release any aroma, allowing a natural evolution of the wine.
Fabrizio Ciufoli, enologist, after admitting that his family cellar (Poggio Bertaio) does not have cement tanks just because recently born, also admits that in the cellars that he collaborates with “I started using them when I realized the use we could make of them, wich was not the one they were born for, the fermentation. In other words when I understood that during the storage phase after a passage in the wood, before and after realizing the blends, we had a clear higher result than in steel.”
When we asked if at sensiorial level they give characteristics to the wine, he said something very interesting: “In my opinion, more than giving new characteristics to the wine, they contribute to mantain intact the more positive ones that the wine already has!”
More important, when we asked if he believes that there are mostly economics and/or marketing reasons in the recent reevaluation of this kind of containers, he claimed: “The solution to the problems I found during the storage phase with steel tanks is to climate-control the environment. Of course if there are cement tanks there is not need to climate-control the environment and this causes costs reduction, obtaining optimum results.”
To be honest, there is also who is clearly contrary to the cement, such as our reader Simone Santini, asserting that inside the resin used to vetrify the cement tanks there are toxique substances that liquefy inside the wine.
Then, summin up
the first thing that we note from the answers, that we already knew, is that the cement tanks use was very diffuse during the past, at least until Seventies. To this fact we want to add something, the “negative value of past”: Ottaviani cellar underlined that cement tanks were perceived as part of “social cellars”, with a negative value.
Indeed, the big and huge tanks that some cellars used during the past, were hard to manage and they needed very high expenses for the use and maintenance. Let’s for example think to the wooden vats used in Tuscany until Sixties, later seen as a demon, luckily for a short period. Actually, they perfectly fit if clean and well sterilised: the same thing we can say for cement tanks.
All producers and enologists that sent their comments do not use cement tanks just for winemaking, but also for storage (before or after a passage in the wood) and even for the refinement.
About storage everybody agrees on this, that the wine (in this case we almost always talk about red wine) tends to reduce less if kept into cement tanks. This function is maybe one of the principal reasons of a revival of this kind of container.
About the refinement: this function, that was less used in the past, seems to move foreward such as a “light refusal” of the wood use. The choice to reduce the use of wood for refinement is also, in our opinion, related to the consumer’s tendency to ask for less wood marked wines and the financial advantage that a cement tanks has through time with respect to a barrel. Ultimately we notice how the cement tanks, more than becoming “fashionable”, resumed a role that was already its competence, with some new kind of uses, related to the consumer’s reduction of very strong wooden aromas in the wine.