This we know; the Romans refined the winemaking techniques in Alentejo and introduced the talhas de barro, amphora. The size of the talha could vary but the bigger ones contained up to 2,000 liters. The inside of the amphora was protected with resin, a technique used in all Roman wine regions back then and easy to apply in Alentejo as well thanks to all pine forests. But what perhaps fascinates the most is that the use of talhas never disappeared in Alentejo and even today it’s common for a family to have their own amphora for the private consumption. Resin though, is not used anymore but instead the inside is painted.
This more people need to know
Two years ago I stood outside Herdade do Rocim in the south parts of Alentejo, close to the village of Vidigueira. A state of the art-winery with an architecture in line with the landscape. Probably that kind of winery most oenologists dream of working in but wine romantics bridles at. Well, they shouldn’t as this facility is the home of the first commercial talha wines in modern time; one white, one read.The amphora wine production at Herdade do Rocim goes way back but it was first a few years ago the wines went in to bottle. Senhor Pedro who is in charge of the amphora wines uses talhas so old that nobody knows their age. ‘My grandfather told me they were here when he was a boy’ he says. The talhas can hold 1,050 liters each and the red and white are made identically.
The indigenous grapes
The grapes are Antão Vaz, Perrum, Rabo de Ovelha and Manteúdo for the branco and Aragonez, Trincadeira, Tinta Grossa and Moreto for the tinto. Some of them today rare varieties. All are from the estate’s oldest vineyards which are up to 80 years of age. These are closer to the soil, with a training where leafs are kept so the clusters ripen later and the acidity is higher. Still, and this needs to be said, the sub-region of Vidigueira differs a lot from say the more central parts of Alentejo, with more hilly terrain and a climate that also suits green grapes.
The talha winemaking
When Senhor Pedro receives the grapes in, it is all sent down the talha; grapes, skin and stems. It ferments naturally and during 45 days Pedro performs four punch-downs on a daily basis. He lives at the house next door and tells me that he can hear the action from the fermentation during night! No temperature control here. When the wines have fermented they both go through the malolactic process and afterwards the stems and skin
all sink down in the talha where it is allowed to stay for around half a year. I know what you think. How do the get the wine out of the amphora! This is the beauty part; at the bottom there is like a big cork and when removed the
wine comes out without the need of filtering as that is taken care of by the skins and stems. At the winery the wine gets a tiny dosis of sulphur which is the only part of the production where the wines are corrected.
2014 Amphora Branco (89 p) Pale yellow color with a nuance of bronze. First time I tasted the wine was at the estate, and it was served with some ham from the black pig of Alentejo. Killer combination. The wine is quite elegant and cool on the nose with scents of spices, yellow fruits, mescal and flowers. On the palate a dry, round wine with moderate acidity, good tannin grip, saltiness and grapefruit and citrus notes. Perhaps not a wine correct by the oenologist book but such a joy to drink.
2015 Amphora Branco (90 p) Yellow color. Generous bouquet with floral scents, orange blossom, peaches, nuts and spices. Has that oozing of wet rocks as well but it is deriving from the talha aging. Lovely mouth-filling taste with spiciness, yellow fruits, dried flowers and just a touch of agave. Quite concentrated and long finale. Will age better than the 2014.
2014 Amphora Tinto (88 p) Transparent youthful red color. Slightly unfocused on the nose initially but with time in the glass it evolves. Red berries, cherries and raspberries, licorice, a touch of green, flowers, agave and wet rocks. An easy to fall for mid-weight palate with gentle notes of berries, spices and stems. The tannins adds freshness and there is also a eucalyptus note on the finale.
2015 Amphora Tinto (90 p) Darker red color, still transparent. Pretty concentrated nose with plums, black cherries, sweet licorice, herbs and violets. Simply put, a seducer. On the palate a wine not full-bodied but with more stuffing than the 2014. Ripe fruit hiding the tannins, oriental spices and a fine acidity. Finishes in style with length and purity. Will age a few years for sure.
Buy the Amphora wines of Herdade do Rocim? Consult wine-searcher to track them down. These are wines anyone with an open mind and curiosity needs to have in their collection. And Senhor Pedro’s winemaking shows we still have a lot to learn from the ancient techniques.