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Rocim Amphora Wine Day 2021 Part 1: Alentejo Vinho de Talha, amphora & ‘Pote de Barro’ wines

The team at Herdade do Rocim celebrate Amphora Wine Day 2021; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

I have travelled abroad once and once only since the Covid outbreak, so I made sure November’s visit counted.  The headline event was Herdade do Rocim Amphora Day 2021 in Vidigueira, Alentejo. 

Whilst predominantly showcasing local Vinho de Talha DOC wines (made in clay or concrete pots), much like the winery’s own range, Herdade do Rocim Amphora Day takes in a broader sweep of clay-made/amphora wines.  Examples were shown from across Portugal and further afield (Georgia, France, Spain, Italy and the USA).

I focused on Portugal and managed to meet with and taste wines from most of the producers.  Next time for the others! (Amphora Day, an annual event, is held on the first Saturday after St Martin’s Day on 11th November).       In Part 1 of my report on Herdade do Rocim Amphora Wine Day I write up and reflect on the Alentejo wines.  Most come from Vidigueira, which is the heartland of talha wines.

The roll call of producers at Herdade do Rocim Amphora Wine Day 2021; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

By way of reminder, the DOC Vinho de Talha rules introduced in 2010 aim to preserve core traditions.  They provide that:

  • the grapes must be de-stemmed;
  • the fermentation must be undertaken in impermeable pots (‘talha’);
  • the wine and the skins must remain in talha until November 11th (St. Martin’s day); and
  • the grapes must be sourced from (and permitted by) Alentejo’s DOC sub-regions (Borba, Évora, Granja-Amareleja, Moura, Portalegre, Redondo, Reguengos and Vidigueira).

I’ve been entranced by talha wines since my 2015 visit with traditional and contemporary talha wine makers, reported in two posts, here and here.  It is worth emphasising that there can be a world of difference between the two (which I have categorised separately below), additionally between Vinho de Talha DOC wines and those wines (let’s call them hybrid) which ferment in talha without skins or on skins but only for a short period.

Typically made by producers whose bread and butter is mainstream wines, contemporary talha/amphora styles tend to be fresher, with more refined phenolics/tannins.  Benchmark Vinho de Talha DOC examples have texture and layer thanks to skin contact.  And they are capable of great finesse in the right hands and the right pot!  Check out my Decanter report here on Portugal’s most expensive wine release – Herdade do Rocim Jupiter Code 01 2015.   Whilst friendly, entry level contemporary Vinho de Talha and ‘hybrid’ examples can be a little too ‘clean’ and less interesting for it.

Conversely, the more traditional styles from dedicated talha makers now bottling their wines can tip into oxidative and lack freshness and/or detail.  But the best are spicy and multi-layered.  Technically trained winemakers are, perhaps, better able to hedge against losing purity and freshness without losing personality or ‘soul.’  Treading the line brilliantly, XXVI Talhas are a case in point.

As this tasting demonstrated, quality and style is varied within each category.  The different grapes, terroir and pots themselves (clay density, porosity, size and condition) influence the resulting wines and, where bottling these wines is a relatively new development, inevitably producers are still finding their way.

Casa de Monte Pedral, Vila Frades; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Uber-traditional wines served direct from talha in tabernas (taverns) are as unpretentious as the short glass beakers in which they are served. Rustic but still primary, the whites are pungent but sweet and the reds gutsy.  Savoured with local dishes, they really come into their own.   I have much enjoyed the reds at Adega Velha and the whites at Páis das Uvas and Casa de Monte Pedral.  On both occasions, I tasted them around St Martins Day, when the wines were at their freshest.

The roll call of producers making talha wines has mushroomed since my 2015 visit.   According to the Alentejo CVR’s latest data, the number of DOC Vinho de Talha producers rose from one in 2010 (producing 1,213 litres) to 25 in 2020, (producing 119,035 litres). With greater interest in talha and clay-made wines, the traditional taverns who still sell direct from talha attract wine lovers from across Portugal and further afield.  However, by its very nature, talha winemaking will remain niche in the scheme of things (in 2020, DOC Vinho de Talha wines represented 0.1% of Alentejo’s production).  The process is small batch and pots are breakable. But it is ever such an exciting, innovative niche with interesting experimentation beyond the strict DOC Vinho de Talha parameters.  Generally speaking, I find talha whites particularly transporting.

Old school style – fresh from the talha at Adega Velha; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

If you are interested to find out more, the Alentejo Wine Commission has published a terrific guide with video interviews about the history and evolution of talha wines here.

The chapter about talha wines in Simon Woolf’s and Ryan Opaz’s new book, ‘Foot Trodden, Portugal and The Wines That Time Forgot,’ is a great read on the traditional culture of (unbottled) talha wines.

The Centro Interpretativo do Vinho de Talha opened at Praça 25 de Abril 11-14, Vila de Frades, in 2020 to lead visitors through the history, culture and process of talha winemaking.  Moves are afoot to reinforce the culture and tradition of talha wines yet further by applying for UNESCO Intangible Heritage Cultural status.

Last September, a group of producers independently established the Association of Vinho de Talha Producers (APVT) to protect and promote traditional talha wines with their own seal of identity and quality.  You will see ‘APVT’ alongside the names of producer members below.

Traditional styles

Gerações da Talha 

Teresa Caeiro of Gerações da Talha; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Gerações da Talha was born in 2019.  It seems fitting to start with a new project whose name – gerações, meaning generations – references the collaboration between mining engineering graduate turned oenologist Teresa Caeiro and her grandfather Professor Arlindo.

Arlindo is the star of the commission’s video and a stalwart of talha winemaking the original way.  Which is to say, the professor did not bottle his wines.  Made for consumption by family and friends, they did not have far to travel!

I much enjoyed tasting with Professor Arlindo in 2015 (pictured below), so it’s great to know that wines made in his cellar below the family home will reach a wider audience. It is located in Vila de Frades, the epicentre of talha winemaking since Roman times (as evidenced by the ruins of Vila Romana de São Cucufate).

Professor Arlindo in 2015; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Arlindo still tends the vineyards and helps his granddaughter with the winemaking process. ‘Professor Arlindo,’ the top wine (not shown) pays tribute to Caeiro’s mentor and, in addition to 4 months on the skins/lees (‘mae/the mother’), it aged for nine months in talha.

Gerações da Talha Natalha 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

The younger generation are all too aware that talha wines are on trend.  Made with no additions, fermented on skins and favouring traditional clay over oak, the name of this wine cleverly combines natural and talha.  But the contemporary touch goes beyond the label.  Caeiro wanted to pick the grapes earlier for freshness and lower alcohol.  The resulting wine has delicious pithy pink and breakfast grapefruit grip and cut, making for a zesty, leaner, citrus-driven style with a drier profile.  Like Farrapo, it spent 4-5 months on skins, so the winemaking is much the same.  It is a blend of Roupeiro, Antão Vaz, Perrum and Manteúdo.  13%

Farrapo White 2019 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

The inhabitants of Vila Frades are known as the Farrapeiros, which name derives from the 16th century religious order of São Francisco Capuchos Friars.  Farrapo is the name of the wet cloth traditionally used to wrap around talhas to keep them cool (hot fast ferments can explode the pots). Picked riper, this blend of Antão Vaz, Perrum and Roupeiro is quite different from Natalha.  Sweeter and softer tasting on the attack, with honeyed, lozenge (herbal) and pink grapefruit.  Perhaps because of a touch more alcohol (and, it follows extraction), the wine is pithier and grippier.  The phenolic structure provides balance and length.  Lingering, with surprising freshness.  14.5%

Farrapo Red 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

This field blend of Alfrocheiro,Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet is pithy with sweet, creamy blackcurrant and bilberry. Pithy phenolics and fresh acidity make for an attractive, balanced red. 13.5%

Sovibor

Rita Tavares of Sovibor; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Located in Borba, Sovibor has two wineries.  Talha wines are made in “Adega do Passo” – the traditional winery, which is over 200 years old.  They are made by the well-known consultant António Ventura, together with Rafael Neuparth and Rita Tavares.

The winemakers take full advantage of Adega do Passo’s 85 talhas – the extensive talha range includes single varietal reds (even a Syrah) as well as traditional field blends and a ‘Petroleiro (a blend of red and white grapes).

Tavares showed the wines, the first of which takes the ebullient talha enthusiast’s name.  Mamoré, meaning marble, is a reference to the stone, which is quarried locally.

Mamoré de Borba Talha da Rita 2018 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

Tavares selects the grapes for this powerful single talha cuvée, usually from the same dry-grown old vineyard.  It is a blend of 90% Antão Vaz and 10% Arinto. Her goal is to make a different white, full of personality, oxidative, yet much like the winemaker, ebullient!  Bright antique gold, with parrying lemon butter and grapefruit peel and pith, acidity and tannin (it spent several months on skins).  The spicy phenolic structure and alcohol pack a punch.  Bold, intense and flavoursome, it is the perfect fit for Alentejo’s classic robust dishes.  Tavares recommends bacalhau, strong cheese, pork knuckles or pezinhos (trotters). 15%

Mamoré de Borba Talha Tinto Moreto 2019 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

This new cuvée is due for release in March.  Moreto is a key variety in Alentejo’s Granja-Amareleja sub-region, but it is scarce in Borba.  This wine comprises a single talha from a 57-year-old vineyard.  Reflecting Borba’s elevation, it is fresher (lovely freshness) than the gutsy examples I have tasted from Granja-Amareleja, although the flavour spectrum is similar with dried fig, violets and catering chocolate.  14.5%

Adega Marel

Tiago Macena of Adega Marel; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Located in Granja Amareleja, Tiago Macena started this project in 2018.  Adega Marel has three labels.  Named after Macena’s grandfather Tonico who taught him the traditional method, Tonico is made in talha.  Marel is made using modern winemaking techniques to preserve fruit and freshness.  The Manolito label combines both techniques.

Grapes from a modern vineyard planted in 2007 are incorporated in Marel and Manolito wines. Macena showed me Tonico white and red, which are sourced from older field blend vineyards which he manages and has been renovating/augmenting.

Located in the south-easternmost corner of Alentejo, the region has an extreme continental climate and, said Macena, the traditional planting density is exceptionally low at 1,300 vines/ha because of the lack of water. Himself based in Dão where freshness is a given, his challenge is to retain freshness and, ideally, he would like the alcohol to be lower.  I shall watch this ambitious project with interest.

Adega Marel Tonico White 2019 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

A field blend of Antão Vaz, Diagalves, Roupeiro and Manteúdo from the oldest 1.5ha vineyard plot, which produced a single (large) talha of wine in 2019; harvested on September 9th. The wine remained on skins until mid-January 2020 when the free run was filtered (traditionally via the skins in the base of the talha) into a stainless-steel tank until bottling in May 2020.  The technical fiche for this wine candidly describes the aroma as “challenging.”  It is certainly unusual – quite herbal/botanical and vegetal, with pease pudding and a distinct impression of ‘dryness’/dry extract.  In the mouth it is pungent with pronounced earth and damp, raw (palate cleaving) clay with resin undertones (from the pez used to coat the inside perhaps?) Macena said the talha is untreated, but he has since purchased two new talhas.  Countering the savouriness, there is a sweetness, with citrus/citrus blossom.  Pithy (lightly) phenolic spice and texture too.  I’d like to have sat with this wine for longer to allow it to open up.

Adega Marel Tonico Red 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

Predominantly made with signature local grape Moreto (some ungrafted), with a splash of Castelão.  Macena finds that Moreto, which ripens unevenly, is usually the last grape he picks.  Bottled in August, this wine is still lean and reticent.  A touch vegetal. The fruit is currently missing in action, but I like the freshness.  One to review. 13%

Alexandre Frade/ACV (APVT)

Alexandre Frade of ACV with Sergio Frade of O Frades; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Alexandre Frade of ACV, a founder of the AVPT, proudly tells me he produced the first DOC Vinho de Talha in 2015.  He built a winery at a small plot close to São Cucufate (the Roman seat of winemaking), where he has planted heritage cuttings.

The winemaker went back to school aged 60 to understand the science behind his grandfather’s traditional winemaking.  He does not want to stray from the traditional path.  Rather, the goal was to correct what was not working by learning how to control the wine without resorting to additives and minimise oxygenation once the wine has fermented so that the wines can age.

Where the art of making talha pots was lost (a handful of artisans are trying to reinvent the wheel), Frades has developed a tool to apply the impermeable lining of talha pots known as pez (a mix of around 50% resin and beeswax).

Frades’ son Sergio, pictured, maintains another aspect of talha tradition, selling/serving the wine alongside local dishes based on his grandmother’s recipes, albeit in Lisbon at O Frades in Belém.

Although the labels of the wines I tasted are quite contemporary, the wines are – as intended – traditional and at the rustic end of the spectrum of those shown.  I’m sure they will come into their own with hearty dishes.

ACV Castas Antigas 2018 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

Sourced from a 40-year-old field blend vineyard near São Cucufate on schist with Síria, Antão Vaz, Manteúdo, Perrum, Diagalves and Larião.touch Lucozade in hue with a vegetal, salty/salt caramel edge to the dried stone fruits.  A touch rustic/baked. 821 bottles made.

ACV Peculiar Mangancha 2017 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

As the alcohol level (16%) suggests, this is a robust red, with spicy liquorice and firm tannins to boot.  With coltsfoot and lavender, I would imagine that stems were returned to the ferment.  This blend of 66% Aragonez and 34% Trincadeira was sourced from a 20-year-old parcel of just 540sq metres on gravel and clay soil. It was bottled in May 2018; 3,400 bottles produced.

Honrado (APVT)

Honrado Cella Vinaria Antiqua;photo credit Sarah Ahmed

During November’s visit, it was exciting to see members of Gen[eration] Y and Gen. Z embracing agriculture and tradition.  I’ve mentioned mining engineering graduate turned oenologist Teresa Caeiro at the aptly named Gerações da Talha.  Similarly, the ‘brain drain’ kicked into reverse for Ruben Honrado.  The digital marketer returned from the Silicone Valley in 2016 to help his restaurateur father realise his dreams for Honrado Vineyards in Vila Frades.

Honrado developed the talha-influenced labels and clay-like bottles for the brand.  He has also spearheaded Honrado’s oenotourism project at his father’s taberna, Páis das Uvas (which continues to sell wine direct from talha too) and Cella Vinaria Antiqua, the centuries old talha winery next door which the family discovered and restored in 2017.

Ruben Honrado; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Here are my notes on talha wines tasted over a speedy lunch at a packed and buzzy Páis das Uvas on Amphora Wine Day.  The wines are sourced from the family’s vineyards on schist soils close to São Cucufate in Vidigueira.  The wines, made by renowned consultant Paulo Laureano, are naturally fermented in clay talha waterproofed with beeswax and resin pez. The wines stay on skins until around St Martin’s day – November 11th.

Honrado Talha Branco 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

This golden blend of Antão Vaz, Arinto, Perrum and Diagalves has the sweet lozenge (honey, citrus and herbs) note of traditional talha whites.  And the texture and spicy phenolics.  Deftly done, with nice balance and persistence.

Honrado Branco – jug of 2021, direct from talha

Lighter in texture than the previous wine (youth perhaps), with cinnamon-dusted fresh pear and quince.

Honrado Talha Branco 2019 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

An amber hue.  Like an orange wine, you have more pronounced spicy phenolic textural rusticity, dried apricot and orange peel notes.

Honrado Talha Branco Premium 2017 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

A 1000-bottle edition from the best talha of the year.  This blend of Antão Vaz, Arinto and Mantuedo has developed a licorous texture.  Honied with dried stone and citrus fruit, it tastes like a dry late harvest wine.

Honrado Talha Tinto 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

A blend of Alfrocheiro, Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet.  The pale hue signals the light vin de soif style. Reveals rhubarb, cinnamon spice and gently, pithy striated tannins.  Not especially concentrated, but good quaffing.   13%

Honrado Talha Tinto Premium 2019 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

Concentrated and gutsy, this best talha 920-bottle edition is a world apart from the entry-level wine although it was also taken off skins on 11 November. Given the alcohol, it was picked much later, allowing for the accumulation of flavour, alcohol/body and riper tannins for more extraction.  Perhaps the gutsiness is also related to the lead variety, Tinta Grossa, of which Honrado’s winemaker, Paulo Laureano, is the kingpin.  The other varieties in the blend are Aragonez, Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet. Gutsy with Tinta Grossa’s classic violets to nose and palate and lashings of liquorice and more lifted coltsfoot spice, bitter chocolate and more vegetal catering chocolate as it mellows a tad on the lingering finish. Strapping stuff, with structural, textural but not aggressive tannin.  15.5%

Honrado Tinto – jug of 2021 direct from talha

A strong, gutsy talha red, with striking freshness and tannin vigour but not chew to the black fruits.

XXVI Talhas (APVT)

Ricardo Santos of XXVI Talhas; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

One of my finds from Rocim Amphora Day 2019 (Mestre Daniel Lote X 2018 was a Wine of the Month), this Vila Frades-based project founded by local friends in 2018 has continued to impress (I have tasted three releases thus far, spanning 2018-2020).  Indeed, I have selected XXVI Talhas Mestre Daniel white 2020 for the next quarter’s Discovery Box for Bar Douro Wine Club (to be released next month).

The name of the project derives from the fact that the winery is home to 26 talhas: 22 made of clay, four from reinforced cement.  The former date back to the 18th century, whilst the latter were produced between 1920-1940 inside the winery (using a mold), because they are bigger and much heavier than the clay talhas. Because they are wider, the oxidation in cement talhas is not usually so high as in clay, says Ricardo Santos, winemaker and co-founder.

The winery’s old cellar belonged to ‘Mestre Daniel,’ Daniel António Tabaquinho dos Santos who, in addition to producing wine (like his forebears), also used it as his carpentry workshop. Mestre Daniel produced talha wine there for around 30 years until his death in 1985; the winery ceased production shortly afterwards.  The winemaker’s grandchildren, Alda and Daniel, together with their cousin Samuel and Ada’s childhood friend Santos have breathed new life into the cellar.

They source all the grapes from different dry grown field blend parcels and growers in Vila Frades, the youngest at least 25 years old.  The soils around the village are schist and granite, allowing for greater complexity.

XXVI Talhas produces three labels.  Simpler/fruitier, entry-level Tareco (white, red and palhete) is sourced from vines averaging 30 years old on shale and granite and bottled relatively early, after around 2.5 months in talha.  Mestre Daniel is sourced from vines of a similar age but from a broader range of soils – granitic and schistous.  It spends longer (5-6 months) in talha.  Top wine Mestre Daniel X is a single-talha label, produced from older, lower yielding vine material (averaging 40 years old) on shale /granite; it also spends 5-6 months in talha.

XXVI Talhas Mestre Daniel Branco 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

A blend of Antão Vaz, Perrum and Roupeiro. According to Santos, Antão Vaz provides the aromatics for talha wine, Perrum gives body and structure, whilst Roupeiro “is really important because it is easier to obtain a higher sugar content.  The Antão Vaz and Perrum are harvested earlier to maintain freshness in the final blend. All bruised apple and honey, with a firmer core of dried fruit (pear, quince?) and a hint of bay leaf.  A backbone of acidity teased out layers of flavour and makes for a long, persistent palate.  Lovely balance and precision with mouthfeel/palate weight. 12%

XXVI Talhas Mestre Daniel Vinho Tinto 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

A fruity blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez and local rarity Tinta Grossa.  Like a palhete, it’s almost perfect to chill, said Santos.  It reveals cinnamon and milk/vegetal catering chocolate-edged striated plum (close to the core, with a bit of grip), pear and blackberry fruit.  Rounded tannins offer little resistance.  Slips down all too easily.  13%

Contemporary styles

Fita Preta

Being adventurous, Antonio Macanita of Fita Preta has played around with talha pots for some years under his Signature experimental/small batch label.  I reported on Fita Preta Signature Series Branco de Talha 2012 in 2014 here.

It falls into my hybrid category because it is not strictly speaking a talha wine.  Only the press juice was fermented in talha (without skins); the time spent in talha was short too – it was transferred to stainless steel tank for ageing after only 28 days.  His explains the paler hue and less oxidative style.

Even without the benefit of phenolic structure, as the 2010 vintage shown demonstrated, the wine ages well. Both wine and lees (an anti-oxidant) are transferred to tank; there is no stirring in tank.

Fita Preta Signature Series Branco da Talha 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Sourced from an organic certified vineyard in Borba, this is a blend of certified organic Antao Vaz Roupeiro.  It reveals petroleum to the nose and palate.  In the mouth it is nutty and softly textured, with savoury pillowy lees.  But it remains fresh and eminently drinkable.  13%

Fita Preta Signature Series Branco da Talha 2019 (VR Alentejano)

The current vintage is sourced from the same varieties/vineyard.  It is satin smooth and softly textured, persistent and admirably fresh.  Very even/balanced of delivery, it’s attractive if lacking the personality of talha wines fermented on skins.  Perhaps those lesser-known grapes too.  There and again, give it time and it will reveal tertiary complexity.  12.5%

Fita Preta Signature Series Tinto do Pote de Barro 2019 (VR Alentejano)

This red partner was first made in 2016.  Perhaps because it came into being after the DOC Vinho de Talha designation was launched in 2010, the label references Pote de Barro or clay pot, not talha.  Sourced from a 35-year-old field blend vineyard, Vinha da Nora, at 440m elevation on clay in Borba. The varieties include Trincadeira, Castelão, Moreto and Alfrocheiro.  The grapes were de-stemmed, lightly crushed and transferred to a single talha where they fermented then aged for 30 days, spending around two months on skins in total.    It tastes a good deal fresher than its 15% alcohol by volume would suggest!  Once again, I find that vegetal catering chocolate edge to the red fruits.  The (fruit) tannin (and lack of oak) add to the impression of dryness/freshness.  Lovely freshness.

Casa Relvas 

 

Alexandre Relvas of Casa Relvas; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Casa Relvas is a go ahead sizeable, family-owned producer.  In 2020, it had 250 ha of estate-owned vineyards in the Borba sub-region.  It buys fruit from another 140ha.  The wine range is as substantial as it is eclectic.

Whilst uber-modern, fruity, entry-level Ciconia brand was an early adopter of screwcap, the Art. Terra brand revolves around terroir expression and the traditional techniques; it encompasses relatively small production Amphora, Curtimenta and Organic wines (10% of the estate vineyards are now certified organic).        

I’ve a soft spot for the amphora and organic reds.  They’re fruity and friendly, with a freshness, texture and layer I’ve yet to find in the whites.

Casa Relvas Art. Terra Amphora Branco White 2021 (VR Alentejano)

This new release is much fruitier and fresher than other examples I’ve tasted, with perfumed pear fruit.  It comprises 100% Arinto (which, conventionally vinified I tend to find more citrus in expression).  Currently quite simple, but nice freshness.

Casa Relvas Art. Terra Amphora Branco White 2018 (VR Alentejano)

Again 100% Arinto, naturally fermented and fermented and aged on skins for around 60 days. Showing tertiary development, yellow, with petrol notes to the softly chewy mallow palate. Missing out on freshness, texture and layer. 11.5 %

Casa Relvas Art. Terra Amphora red 2020 (VR Alentejano)

Like the white, this blend of Moreto, Trincadeira, Aragonez and others was naturally fermented and spent around 60 days on skins.  It was aged for three months in small amphorae sur lies. Aromatic with fresh minty lift to the juicy blackberry fruit and gently pithy tannins.  Very drinkable indeed. 13.5 %

Susana Esteban

I was sorry not to catch up with Susana Esteban, who was ill.  Last time we were in contact, she had lots of exciting projects on the go.  The Portalegre winemaker was cock-a-hoop about planting a new vineyard there in Alegrete from heritage cuttings old-school style i.e. a field blend, interspersed with ancient olive trees.  For her Sidecar label, she was making an innovative sparkling wine (2020 vintage) with Emmanuel Lassaigne from Jacques Lassaigne Champagne.  And she has a new part-amphora made wine.

Susana Esteban Procura Na Anfora 2018 (VR Alentejano)

I tasted this wine in 2019 and 2020.  It comes from an 85-year-old Portalegre field blend vineyard at 700 meters altitude in the Serra de São Mamede.  Like the Fita Preta white, only the press juice is fermented and aged in clay amphora (where the wine spent 6 months in total).  Esteban also uses temperature control to preserve freshness and terroir.  It is a refined example, with detail and layer – powder puff/talc, lemon, fennel and bay leaf.  The acidity has softened since I first tasted it, or perhaps it is this example which is segueing into tertiary-dom. 12.5%

Susana Esteban Tira o Véu Vinhas Velhas 2020 (VR Alentejano)

This wine was first released in 2019.  I’m guessing it comes from the same vineyard as Procura Na Anfora because it is described as an 85-year-old Portalegre field blend vineyard at 700 meters altitude in the Serra de São Mamede.  Originally, it started off as an amphora project but, this time with 30% skin contact. Because the wine developed flor (like Fino sherry or a Jura wine), it became something else. Poised, with fresh, juicy pear, crunchier, granular pear, pear skin and cinnamon.  It has a wild (volatile?) edge and touch of bitterness – trace elements which add interest.  Intriguing.  Another wine to sit with and allow to unfurl….12.5%

Cortes de Cima

Ana Jorgensen of Cortes de Cima; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Established by Hans and Carrie Jorgensen who produced their first wine – Incognito Syrah in 1998 – this Vidigueira estate (certified organic since 2021) is no stranger to innovation.  In fact, whilst talha wines have long appeared on the labels, they had no place in the winery (other than for decorative purposes).

Following a globe-trotting spell cutting her winemaking teeth elsewhere, the couple’s daughter Ana has taken over the project, introducing talha wines and LOUR-INHO 2019, an Alsace-like Louriero/Alvarinho blend aged in Slovenian foudre from the family’s impressive Costa Vicentina (coastal) vineyard.  So these days, talha are use and ornament at Cortes de Cima!

Cortes de Cima Branco 2021

Only decanted from a small 400l talha a couple of days previously, this is the talha equivalent of Incognito, for traditional talha makers surely had never heard of Viognier.  This wine – the first attempt at a skin contact talha white (with a third whole bunches) – is made from 100% Viognier.  It’s a touch high-toned/pinched on the nose, with cusp of ripeness/greengage stone fruit (Jorgenson is keen to avoid the fruit becoming too heavy/ripe, so she picked early, on 3 August). Still, the wine has Viognier’s trademark waxy texture as well as pithy, fresh grapefruit.  It needs time to settle.  One to review.  11%

Cortes de Cima Palhete 2021 (tank sample)

Jorgensen made this 80/20 Syrah/Viognier blend in collaboration with Daniel Niepoort (Dirk Niepoort’s son). It was fermented in a 2000l amphora then transferred to stainless steel on full lees, where it remains (unsulphured for now).  The plan is to rack it in the spring. With 9g/l Total acidity it has uncommon freshness/sappiness for this part of the world.  Promising.  Certainly a point of difference. 11.5%

Cortes de Cima Daqui 2020 (VR Alentejano)

This is the second release of this cuvee.  I found the first – a 50:50 blend of Trincadeira and Aragones a little reduced/rubbery and, though light in frame, not as fresh as you might have hoped. The second release comprises 100% Touriga Franca and is fresher and light of frame if quite deep in hue (deeper than the 2019, as I recall).  The whole bunches were foot-trodden and transferred to talha with a quarter of the stems the following day.  The wine remained on skins until St Martin’s day (11 November) and was bottled in July 2021.  The fruit is crunchy, still a little pinched, but vivid, with attractive white pepper and orange peel notes.  12.5%

Herdade do Rocim

Herdade do Rocim Vinha Micaela Tinto 2018

Pedro Ribeiro with Herdade do Rocim Vinha Micaela Tinto 2018; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

In addition to making a host of clay-made wine, including Vinho de Talha DOC, Pedro Ribeiro and Catarina Vieira import amphora wines from other countries, such is their passion for the genre.   The founders of Amphora Wine Day are at the pinnacle of contemporary talha winemaking and great innovators in the use of clay too.

Fortunately for those of not in the market for £1,000/bottle wines, the entry level range up showcases their skill and flair with clay.  Ribeiro’s own Bojador label offers another take on Vinho de Talha DOC whites and reds and the wines make for an interesting contrast.  Sold in over 25 countries, they are quite widely available too, so they make a great starting point for your talha adventures!

Herdade do Rocim Nat Cool Fresh from Amphora White 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

This is the second release.  I did not taste the first.  Sourced from field blend parcels, it was picked early, at the beginning of August.  After fermentation on skins in talha the resulting wine was transferred into stainless steel tank.  It is very pure and fresh, with crisp acidity and lip-smacking intensity to its herb-licked lemony fruit (think lemon balm/thyme).  Fits the smashable Nat Cool brief well.  11% £16.49/one litre bottle at All About Wine 

Herdade do Rocim Amphora White 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

This field blend of Antão Vaz, Perrum, Rabo de Ovelha and Mateúdo is sourced from estate vines on granite and schist soil. It was naturally fermented on skins in talha without temperature control, additions or correction of must.  The wine aged for three months in bottle.  Good intensity from the get go, this is a particularly intense vintage, with tension and bite.  Long and lemony, with grapefruit, hints of lemon thyme and zesty acidity.  A cracking entry level contemporary style.  12%

Herdade do Rocim Clay-aged White 2020 (DOC Alentejo Vidigueira)

This is my favourite release of this relatively new, highly contemporary addition to the range.  Once again, the vintage shines, but the fruit was also picked earlier and, admitted Ribeiro, on bottling he initially thought he’d gone in too early.  Taut and tightly coiled, with lime/citrus drive and lifted lime flower; lovely intensity and finesse.  I’d expect it to age well and develop more texture and layer with age.  It is a blend of Verdelho, Viosinho and Alvarinho.  The grapes were fully destemmed and lightly crushed and foot trodden in a traditional stone lagar where they fermented naturally.  The resulting wine then aged for nine months in small clay pots. 12%

Herdade do Rocim Amphora Red 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

This blend of Moreto, Tinta Grossa, Trincadeira and Aragonez was naturally fermented on skins in talha without temperature control, additions or correction of must.  The wine aged for three months in bottle.  Richer, more concentrated than previous vintages, yet with a freshness to the juicy red and black fruits.  Has a spring in its step if not the spicy fruit tannins which are a hallmark of talha wines. 13%

Herdade do Rocim Clay-Aged Red 2019 (DOC Alentejo Vidigueira)

First made in 2015, the maiden vintage featured Alicante Bouschet, Petit Verdot, Trincadeira and Tannat.  However Rocim has now grubbed out two hectares of foreign grapes.  “We wanted to be as authentic as possible and use only Portuguese grapes and ancient techniques, so suddenly we had two hectares we could not use,” said Ribeiro.  This release is a blend of Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira and Touriga Franca. It has a savoury, touch bloody edge, with pease pudding (Trincadeira and Touriga Franca introduce some greenness, said the winemaker).  The dark black and red berry and currant fruit is well supported by plentiful but fine tannins and persistent acidity.  Very long, with a long way to go.  As with Clay-aged white, the grapes were fermented in lagares, pressed of skins and then aged in small clay 140l pots, followed by a period of ageing in bottle.

Herdade do Rocim Vinha Micaela Tinto 2018 (DOC Alentejo Vidigueira)

I’ve written up this wine already, since it was a December Wine of the Month and one of 10 wines I selected for my Top 10 Portuguese fine wines of the Year 2020 for Decanter.  You can find a bit more background about it here.  This exceptionally elegant foot-trodden red is the product of 70-year-old field blend vines planted primarily to Moreto, Trincadeira, Tinta Grossa, Alicante Bouschet with a score more varieties.  Is it the bottle or the predominantly granite soils that put me in mind of classic Dão reds?  It is medium-bodied like them, with restrained fruit.  And beautifully composed, with harmonious, utterly seamless tannins and acidity.  It is all this already at three years old, which makes it quite different.  Classic Dão reds of old require a decade or two to mellow.  The relative warmth of Alentejo and perhaps the varieties set it apart?  Then there’s the lengthy polymerisation on skins and uber-classy oak.  Having spent 6 months on skins in talha, it spent 24 months 500l French oak.  Top notch, it introduces lead pencil, cedar and graphite scents and flavours, with melt-in-the-mouth fine ground couverture chocolate.  Whilst beautiful now, I am sure this ultra-balanced red will age gracefully for a decade or more.    14% RRP £195.00/bottle; imported into the UK by Hallgarten & Novum

Bojador

Bojador is the Vidigueira-based personal project of Pedro Rocim who, with Catarina Vieira, heads winemaking at Herdade do Rocim.  Ribeiro founded the label in 2010 and makes wines in talha and wines using modern winemaking kit/techniques too.

Bojador Amphora White 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

As usual, I find Bojador wines more savoury.  This field blend of Perrum (40%), Roupeiro (30%), Rabigato (20%) and Manteudo (10%) is more textural too, waxy, with snuffed candle and vegetal nunaces to the pear and quince fruit. 12% £19 at Wood Winters 

Bojador Amphora Red 2020 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

This blend of 40% Trincadeira, 30% Moreto & 30% Tinta Grossa leads with tobacco.  In the mouth, it reveals sappy, touch tart blackberry and apple pie fruit. Fruity and fresh, it is at the lighter end of the mid-weight spectrum but has good intensity. 12% £19 at Wood Winters; £24.50 at Bar Douro                 

Esporão

Sandra Alves of Esporão; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

With around 450ha of vines (all certified organic), it does not get bigger than Esporão.  Not that it has stopped this modern pioneer from pushing boundaries and making small batch wines.  The talha wines are sold at the cellar door and special wine clubs.

It started making talha wines in 2014.  “We want to keep the tradition and work with old talhas… but it’s also an inspiration for us” said Sandra Alves, pointing out that the white wine had nothing to do with her university training. The winemaker is also experimenting with old fashioned field blend reds and whites.

She took the opportunity to show off a couple of mature talha wines, both sourced from Granja Amareleja from ungrafted old vineyards on sandy soils.

Esporão Vinho de Talho Branco 2017 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

Sourced from 50-80-year-old vines; Diagalves according to the fiche, but Alves said that the whites are predominantly made from the Roupeiro variety.  In any event, the winemaker emphasised the importance of big berries and bunches for juiciness/freshness.  This wine certainly has freshness.  Lovely complexity too, with orange peel, pithy grapefruit marmaladeand a phenolic peel and pith spiciness which, together with the acidity, really carries the wine.  Alves reckons it will last 20 years for sure.  Destemming and fermentation with wild yeasts in amphorae lined with resin. The wines were kept in amphorae until 20 November 2017, in contact with the wine pulp/skins, then basket pressed and aged in stainless steel and in the bottle.  13.5%

Esporão Vinho de Talha Moreto 2017 (DOC Vinho de Talha, Alentejo)

From the same vineyard as the white wine, which is planted with almond and olive trees.  And potatoes.  It yields only a ton per hectare, which you might think would compromise freshness because the skin to juice ratio would be out of whack, but no.  This Moreto red is quite light on its feet compared with the gutsy fresh from talha version I tasted at Adega Velha (a taverna) with Luis Patrão, who then worked at Esporão.  Impressive freshness and persistence to the woolly stone damson and plum fruit, with cinnamon spice; parrying acid and tannin engage throughout, adding to the sense of freshness and animation.  13.5%

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