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Rocim Amphora Wine Day 2021 Part 2: Portuguese feats of clay from beyond Alentejo

Rocim Amphora Wine Day 2021; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

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 wrote up 38 wines from Alentejo – Portugal’s clay capital – in Part 1 and overlooked five, now  covered in this post together with wines vinified and/or aged in clay from Vinho Verde, the Douro, Bairrada, Beira Interior and Madeira.  Plus a Gran Canaria island wine, the result of a Spanish/Portuguese collaboration.  As you will see, within Portugal itself the spirit of collaboration is very much alive and kicking.

Rocim Amphora Day, an annual event, is held on the first Saturday after St Martin’s Day on 11th November at Herdade do Rocim in Cuba,  Vidigueira.

Vinho Verde

Quinta de Santiago

Fittingly, let’s kick of with this collaborative wine – now in its third release – from Quinta de Santiago and Herdade do Rocim.  They share the same UK importer, Hallgarten & Novum Wines.

 Quinta de Santiago Santiago na Anfora do Rocim 2020 (DOC Monção e Melgação, Vinho Verde)

The 2019 vintage of this wine and the regular cuvée performed well at an Iberian Alvarinho/Albarino taste off for Decanter last June. In 2020 – a great year said Rocim’s Pedro Ribeiro.  This 3rd release seems more finely honed and fresher in comparison; it has a degree less alcohol.  Subtle skin phenolics lend structure and interest, intensity and persistence to the greengage fruit, with fennel seed pops.  Youthful, I think it will age interestingly (in a good way!) Assuming it was made in the same way as the 2019, 50% of the Alvarinho fermented and aged in amphora on skins and 50% fermented in stainless steel was then amphora-aged. All natural ferments. 12% 

Márcio Lopes Wines

Márcio Lopes, Rocim Amphora Wine Day 2021; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Márcio Lopes is an open, expressive guy.  It’s reflected in his wines, which are characterful, intense.  And in the bear hug I received!  Since we first met in 2017, the hardworking winemaker who built his brand from scratch (he did not inherit vineyards or a winery) is now the proud owner of a winery whose portfolio has been widely acclaimed at home and abroad.

Whilst his focus is primarily on Vinho Verde and the Douro, the adventurous winemaker told me that he has some collaborative projects on the go in the Dão (with Rocim) and in the Azores, with a couple of viticulturists.  Watch this space!  His wines are imported into the UK by Indigo Wines.

Pequenos Rebentos Selvagem 2019 (DOC Vinho Verde)

I tasted the maiden 2017 vintage of this single vineyard release from 94-year-old, traditionally high-trained (6-7m high ‘enforcado’) vines when I visited with Lopes in 2018.  Just 693 bottles were produced in 2019 when, said the winemaker, low temperatures were great for acidity.  It is a golden hue with crisp crunchy, snappy acidity, which puts me in mind of apples and grapefruit – typical notes for Azal – a variety which is not so common but can be excellent given t.l.c. (Sem Igual is also a case in point). Lopes says the site is windy, which helps keep the bunches studded on this 6-7m ‘wall’ of vines healthy.  But, as he mentioned to me before, you have to reduce yields to obtain the requisite quality.  The wine spent one month on skins in amphora.  Following pressing it was aged in an aged Portuguese oak and aged French oak barrel (the 2017 saw only French oak).  Lopes explained that Azal is very reductive so it benefits from its time in relatively porous clay and Portuguese oak, although he added you need to be careful with lees (keeping them clean, I guess?)  Pequenos Rebentos Selvagem was bottled in 2020 and, after a year in bottle, he feels the oak is integrating nicely.  I find it less pronounced than the 2017 vintage and prefer this vintage for that reason.  Promising stuff – I’ll be interested to see how it ages – the acidity should certainly help! 12.5%

Georgii Chezhia (Aghora Wines)

Gio (Georgii) Chezia, Aghora wines, Rocim Amphora Wine Day 2021; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Georgian winemaker Gio (Georgii) Chezhia is very much part of the young blood Portuguese wine scene and I discovered why.  He has collaborations with leading winemakers, including Soalheiro (Vinho Verde), Filipa Pato (Bairrada) and Fita Preta (Alentejo).  He also has his own Douro project.  The wines are bottled under his Aghora Wines label.  These are finely honed wines – precise and very clean.

There’s a great video about the ‘incubator’ collaboration with Soalheiro here.

Aghora Loureiro 2020 (Vinho Verde)

From a single 40-year-old vineyard.  Pale with a hint of green to the pithy grapefruit.  Delicate, it has a luminosity about it. Pretty.  The grapes fermented then macerated on 40% skins, 10% stems for two months.  They were then pressed and moved back to unlined terracotta amphora from Italy for seven months more ageing. The wine was bottled at the end of August 2021. Just 750 bottles produced; I have bagged an allocation for Bar Douro Wine Club’s next quarterly box – it’ll be great summer drinking!

Aghora Alvarinho 2020 (Vinho Verde)

As you would expect from the variety and sub-region (Monção e Melgação), this has more fruit weight, but it has a lip-smacking green tomato edge, lovely precision and tension with a chalky texture.  The grapes fermented then macerated on 70% skins, 20% stems for two months.  They were then pressed and moved back to unlined terracotta amphora from Italy for seven months more ageing. You would not guess it, but this wine underwent 100% malolactic fermentation.  The wine was bottled at the end of August 2021. 2,300 bottles produced. 12%

Yet to be labelled Alvarinho/Loureiro 2020 (Vinho Verde)

Still coming together, this 50:50 blend is a touch astringent yet (although only macerated on 30% skins, 10% stems – perhaps it’s the unlined Tinajas Padilla from La Mancha).  Following a 2-month maceration, it was pressed and returned to tinajas for seven months.  It reveals star fruit, a chalky texture and laurel and bay leaf lift.  2230 bottles

Douro

Márcio Lopes Wines

Pequenos Rebentos Proibido 450 2020 (DOC Douro Superior)

At point of tasting (November 2021) this new addition to the range – a varietal Tinta Barca – had not been released.  In fact, it was still on skins, which probably accounts for the great depth of colour 450 days later!  Lopes, who planned to bottle around a month later, said it was so dense at the beginning it was his worst wine, but now he loves it.  I loved it too. It’s my first single varietal experience of this traditional Douro grape which, if memory serves me correctly, Ramos Pinto are quite keen on (as a bit part player in blends) for Duas Quintas.  Crazily, it hails from west-facing vineyard at 500m above sea level on schist with some quartz.  Being a field blend vineyard, Lopes harvested by individual vine, not rows, let alone by the vineyard.  He values it for the low pH (which would contribute to freshness), although not every year is good enough to fly solo (2021 was not so good). Pequenos Rebentos Proibido 450 2020 reveals intense red and black cherry fruit, with deep seated violet and bitter chocolate notes.  Structuring, striated tannins allow the fruit to show without it dominating.  I realise we did not discuss the winemaking, other than time on skins, but by definition, this wine spent some time in clay (to qualify for Amphora Wine Day).  12.5%/13%

Niepoort

Daniel Niepoort & Luís Pedro Cândido Silva, Rocim Amphora Wine Day 2021; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Niepoort need no introduction.  The wines were shown by Luís Pedro Cândido Silva and Daniel Niepoort (pictured), Dirk Niepoort’s son.  Niepoort wines are imported into the UK by Raymond Reynolds.

Niepoort Nat Cool Voyeur 2019 (Douro DOC)

A pomegranate hue, with a touch of orange at the edge, this is roughly a 50:50 red/white blend of three red and three white amphora ferments, with some whole bunch ferment.  I had found an earlier sample tasted at home a little flat and sweet but not so on this occasion.  Rather this sample has freshness and delicacy, with an almost creamy quality to the red fruits which finds attractive foil in the chamois/pithy tannins and crunchy acidity.  Sourced from six elevated old vine parcels, the harvest started on 8 August.  Voyeur was fermented and macerated in 1000L clay amphorae for several months.  For Niepoort’s winemaker Luís Pedro Cândido Silva, the red wine brings exuberant fruit, whilst the white lends restraint and persistence.  The whole, he said, is better than the sum of the parts.  11.5%

Elemento

This is Luís Pedro Cândido Silva’s own project – a joint venture with and the Spanish winemaker Carmelo Peña Santana.  I included the 2017 maiden vintage of their Douro red in an early edition of Bar Douro Wine Club’s Discovery Box.  You can buy find out more about the project and buy the 2017 by the bottle here, at Bar Douro’s online Bottle Shop.

Elemento Douro 2019 (Douro)

The vineyard which produced the 2017 was ripped out so the challenge is to find very old (150+ years-old) vineyards.  Job done evidently.  It was fermented with 100% whole bunches and foot stomped at the beginning of ferment.  The tinaja was kept topped up during this wine’s 19 month elevage on skins.  It’s delicious.  Crunchy, with spicy whole bunch lift to its vibrant raspberry fruit.  Lovely persistence.  Such a light touch.  Yet with intensity.

Elemento Gran Canaria 2018 (Gran Canaria, Spain)

Aged in tinaja (Spanish clay vessels), this Canary island red spent 12 months on skins.  It is pale and very spicy, more restrained, lighter and drier than its Douro stablemate (as one might expect from the rather different terroir).  It’s super pithy, with a suede-like texture and incense lift.  The grape varieties are Listan Negro, Listan Prieto (Chile’s Pais) and Listan Blanco.  £35/bottle at Wanderlust (UK importer).

Titan of Douro

Luís Leocádio is making among the Douro’s most individual wines.  Leaving aside his use of these small clay vessels, he has the raw material in spades.  He cultivates pre-phylloxera vines at the Douro’s highest vineyards in the Serra do ReboredoI included the 2016 vintage of his Titan of Douro ‘Estagio em Barro (clay-aged) Douro red in my 2019 feature for Decanter exploring the evolution of Douro wines. Because of their size, Diogo, the assistant winemaker who showed me the wines explained they have to keep topping up the vessels because they lose so much wineto evaporation.  It’s a labour of love.

Titan of Douro Estagio em Barro Branco 2019 (Douro DOC)

Sourced from old vines at 800m and fermented off skins.  The resulting wine is transferred to clay for a 16 month elevage.  It is surprisingly pale, very crisp, with firm, linear acidity and bay and blackcurrant leaf accents to the fresh perfumed pear.  The clay-driven texture comes in going through, holding onto – sustaining – the flavours.

Titan of Douro Estagio em Barro Tinto 2018 (Douro DOC)

Smoky clove, iodine and brick dust – you feel the clay! And in the dusty tannins.  In keeping with a year which I think of as fresh, with good fruit purity, this is austere, quite firm, with red berry and polished blackcurrant fruit with notes of winter greens.  It comes from a vineyard at an altitude of 850m with schist/granite transition soils with quartz veins. 14.5%

Titan of Douro Estagio em Barro Tinto 2019 (Douro DOC)

A very different character, markedly minty on the nose and palate, more vegetal, with esteva and bitter chocolate to the fruits of the forest.  The tannins are broader, a little blocky, still integrating.  Needs time! 13.5%

Quinta do Pôpa

There are new brooms at Quinta do Pôpa. Vanessa Ferreira explained that her family estate, now third generation, is focusing more squarely on sustainability and committed to making natural wines, including amphora wines.  In the past, I’ve found the wines a little oaky and extracted, so this is a sea change.  Carlos Raposo (maker  of one of my February Wines of the Month) joined as Head Winemaker in 2021 and, at the tasting, Ferreira was accompanied by another new recruit, an assistant winemaker, Carina.  Raposo is doing things differently in the vineyard and blended the 2020 vintages.  These wines which represent a change in direction pre-date Raposo’s regime; I shall be keeping an eye on this estate, but the direction of travel looks very positive.  “Freshness, acidity is our way forward,” said Ferreira.

Quinta do Pôpa Dare to Dream White Amphora 2019

This is the second vintage from old vines, mostly Gouveio.  It’s quite contemporary in style, revealing a little reductive struck match on the nose, with lemony, lemon puff (biscuit) flavours.  Nice freshness and subtle phenolic texture.  It was left on skins until May when it was transferred to stainless steel.  13.5%

Quinta do Pôpa Dare to Dream Red Amphora 2019

Made from 100% Touriga Nacional and very much a varietal wine, with lashings of fruit and bergamot.  More so than the white, it is safe take on amphora.  Apparently in 2021, reflecting the desire for greater complexity, it will be a blend of Tinta Francisca, Tinta Cão and Touriga Nacional, whilst the white is likely to incorporate Folgasão and Rabigato.

Lisboa

Quinta do Montalto

Medieval methods – André Gomes Pereira of Quinta do Montalto with a wicker basket – the original lo-fi filter; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

The Pereira family of Quinta do Montalto in Ourem, Lisboa, stand out as a values-led producer.  They cultivate their own vineyard organically and were whip crackers for the recognition of Medieval de Ourem wines made the traditional way (see here).  With a family background in resin products, they have been involved in projects to make talha/anfora – a lost art.  We are firmly against coating anfora with epoxy as opposed to natural tree resin ‘pez,’ asserted André Gomes Pereira.  The 2021 anfora releases are due to be bottled in March/April (Montalto skipped the tricky 2020 vintage).

In this post, although they are not vinified or aged in clay, I’m including my recent notes on ‘Uncondemned’ – a micro-negociant project/label which is a collaboration between key grower Luís de Sousa (CPS), André (Quinta do Montalto) and Montalto’s UK importers Portuguese Story.  The label helps to ensure extremely old vine parcels which might otherwise have been pulled out stay in the ground by supporting the growers and mentoring/overseeing winemaking.  The Uncondemned vineyards include “some of the most traditionally planted vineyards around Portugal (a lot native pre-phylloxera),” says Pereira.  The winemaking is traditional too – in cement tanks and with red and white grape co-fermentation (for the palhete).

Quinta do Montalto Anfora de Baco Branco 2019

Fernão Pires is Montalto’s signature white grape and this shows what the variety can do in clay.  It’s a good varietal expression with more structure than normal.  The citrus-driven palate is firm and fresh with lots of lemony/grapefruity drive and a lick of bay leaf and subtle texture – a touch of (attractive) astringency.  The 400l-450l anforas were made by a neighbour and coated inside with a high quality natural tree resin.  13%

Quinta do Montalto Anfora de Baco Red 2019

A 50:50 Trincadeira/Aragones blend with quite soft red plum fruit on entry, supported by spicy textural tannins (the Aragones).  Shows the varieties well.

Uncondemned White 2019

Comprising mainly Fernão Pires and Arinto, they are tended by an 89-year-old grower and thought to be between 120-140 years old!  It is golden yellow, firm, but textural with a spicy phenolic backbone to the honeyed apricot and mallow palate.  Finishes with stony minerality.  Persistent and sustaining with a touch of bead, it was (naturally) fermented in concrete on skins for 4 days, then transferred to stainless steel vats to continue fermenting and age on lees for 6 months. No temperature control. 14%

Uncondemned Red 2019

You would never guess from the (red) colour of this wine that it is a 50: 50 old vine blend of Fernão Pires/Arinto and Trincadeira/Baga.  But the white varieties explain the freshness and lightness to the vibrant raspberry fruit, with its lick of milk chocolate and sweet lavender/violet notes.  Fine tannins accentuate the drinkability.  Easy going.  The grapes were crushed and destemmed.  The white fermentation (natural, ambient temperature) starts in concrete uncoated open tanks and is topped up a week later with the red juice (which started fermenting with skins separately).  Following lees-ageing, it was bottled unfiltered. 14% (worn very lightly).

Adega Belém

Catarina Moreira & David Picard of Adega Belém, Lisbon; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Academics turned winemakers Catarina Moreira and David Picard are having a ball making garagiste wines in a quirky garage in Lisbon’s Belém district.  The former spray paint bodyshop functions as Adega Belém’s cellar; the tools of a mechanic’s trade don the walls.

The grapes are primarily sourced from Lisbon University’s vineyards.   It’s still early days and this is a boundary pushing, innovative project.   No holds barred. These honest, fun wines showcase the varieties well and the charming urbanistas’ passion project has a thriving cellar door, offering tastings, winery tours and cold platters.

Adega Belém Unicórnio Graúdo Ânfora Curtimenta 2022

A golden Moscatel with lots of orange peel, blossom and spice to its pear/pear tape fruit.  Pithy phenolics lend balance.  Nice freshness.  Medium length.  I preferred this to the curtimenta in barrica, which was a little nutty and dry/astringent.  Grape tannins (not wood) good!

Beira Interior

Casca Wines

Helder Cunha’s growing portfolio at Casca Wines encompasses several regions and a range of wine styles, from contemporary to classic and experimental to traditional.  I should have included the Petroleiro in Part 1 because it comes from Alentejo – I’ve added it to that post now too, bringing the number of Amphora Wine Day Alentejo wines reviewed (here) to 40.

Casca Wines Cascale Ícone Siria 2020 (DOC Beira Interior)

Rocim Amphora Wine Day 2021; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Again, most appealingly packaged, with attractive complexity, it is a deep golden yellow with a smoothly textured but persistent palate, a touch waxy, with a hint of resin and herbs to its pronounced peach tea palate.  The Siria grapes (Beira interior’s flagship white variety) were sourced from an organic vineyard.  The wine was fermented on skins in talha then aged in barrel.  11.5% €20-25

Bairrada

Gio (Georgii) Chezhia 

Yet to be labelled collaboration with Filipa Pato Baga 2020

A lighter style of Baga for sure, fermented with 20% stems.  Whilst it kicks off in easy going vin de soif mode, then comes the stiletto heel – firm, dry, with penetrating acidity and leafy tannin underlay making for a seriousness to the finish.  Exciting!

Madeira

Barbeito/Rocim

Following a 2016 trial release, Barbeito– the leading Madeira producer – released their first light (unfortified) Verdelho in 2017, a DOC Madeirense.  I’ve been impressed with the wines (one unoaked, the other oaked), which are intense and sophisticated.   And very fresh, as you would expect from the island and Barbeito.   A splash of Sercial is “our secret [not now!] weapon, our tartaric acid” Ricardo Diogo Vasconcelos de Freitas told me.

When I showed the 2018 Verdelho at Wines of Portugal’s Annual Tasting in 2020, he also explained that making light wines demands a different approach in the vineyards.  Barbeito undertook a three year conversion programme with specific pruning to achieve high concentration.  Lifting this off the page, having converted 20/25- year-old Verdelho vineyards that used to produce 2.2kg per plant in the past, in 2019, the vines were averaging 0.6kg each.  Sourcing from different parcels for consistency (then four), he was converting more vines in the north and in the warmer south to that end (and doubtless to deal with demand and new cuvees, like this collaboration with Rocim.)

Incidentally, of the total of 142,316 kg of Verdelho grapes harvested in 2017 in Madeira Island, juts 79,597 kg were transformed into DOP Madeirense or IGP Terras Madeirense wines.  So it pays to be quality focused.

Barbeito wines are imported into the UK by Raymond Reynolds.

Vinhos Barbeito/Rocim Verdelho 2020

Fermented in amphora without skins, this Verdelho (with a splash of 5% Sercial) was then aged for nine months in the same amphora.  It had been in bottle 2 weeks before I tasted it but, goodness, this is Verdelho on steroids, with intense orange peel, bay leaf and passionfruit characters.  Lively, ‘V’ is for vibrant!

Alentejo

You will find my full review of over 40 Alentejo clay-made wines in Part 1 of my Rocim Amphora Wine Day post here. This post picks up a few I missed!

Gio (Georgii) Chezhia

Yet to be labelled collaboration with António Maçanita Lote 1 (Alentejo)

I failed to make a note of the vintage for these wines.  This lot/lote had the most skin contact, spending 6 weeks macerating (60% skins 30% stems) in unlined tinajas Padilla from La Mancha.  It was then pressed and moved back to tinajas until June, then blended and moved to inox for 3 months (50% malo).  The Arinto – the more phenolic grape in the blend (c.50%) evidently carries it well, the lemony citrus palate cut with super pithy tannin which makes for a degree of inscrutability despite its purity/clean cut lines.  Young! The fruit was sourced from 3 different vineyards. 11.8% 2200 bottles

Yet to be labelled collaboration with António Maçanita Lote 2 (Alentejo)

Thirty percent of this wine aged under flor, which makes for a pinched, but perky volatile nose and palate.  A livewire and a little too edgy for my taste.  But it is young.  No skin contact for this wine, which aged for 10 months in unlined tinajas Padilla from La Mancha and 3 month in inox before bottling (half malo). It was sourced from 2 different vineyards (with around 70% arinto). 11.5% 500 bottles

Yet to be labelled collaboration with António Maçanita Lote 3 (Alentejo)

This lot was fermented and macerated in local talha (60% skins 30% stems) for 6 weeks. It was pressed and moved back until June and, after blending, was moved to inox for 3 months (half malo). It is fabulously structured, with phenolic cheekbones.  Rolling, insistent acidity carries the pear and lemon flavours along.  Pink grapefruit makes for a riper note to the finish. From Vale do Cepo – an old vineyard – it is a field blend of Alicante Branco, Roupeiro, Trincadeira das Pratas. 550 bottles produced. 11.5%

Casca Wines

Casca Wines Cascale Ícone Petroleiro 2020 (Alentejo)

With not a jot of Riesling in sight, Petroleiro is the name given to pale red/white blends of talha-made wines.  The name derives from the colour of kerosene for oil lamps in case you are wondering.  Sourced from a very old, organically cultivated field blend vineyard in Vila Alva, this is a blend of Perrum, Diagalves, Aragones, Antão Vaz, Trincadeira.  Fermented on skins in talha with punch downs during the maceration, the grapes were approximately 70:30 red to white.   Casca Wines Cascale Ícone Petroleiro 2020 is floral and quite soft and yielding in the mouth, with a pithy wildness yet also a creamy/vegetal softness and smoothness (cleanness too) to the cranberry and red cherry fruit with its gentle liquorice (coltsfoot) nuances. Apparently, it pairs well with chestnuts.  The fruit was picked quite early in August and aged on skins in talha until mid-November.  Beguiling, it’s a charmer and I love the bottle/label. 11.5%

Martins Boutique Wines

Martins Boutique Wines Ralhete 2020 (Alentejo)

Martins Boutique Wines Ralhete 2020 (Alentejo); photo credit Martins Boutique Wines

I overlooked writing up this Alentejo talha wine in my Part 1.  Keenies will wonder if I have made a typo and meant to say Palhete but, under Portuguese law (since 2017), this term can only be used for light (rose) styles obtained from the partial maceration of red grapes or the maceration of both red and a maximum of 15% white grapes. It is a partnership between Herdade do Rocim and Martins Boutiques Wines.  Sourced from Rocim estate old field blend fruit, it comprises 95% white grapes, with 5% red.  The varieties most likely including Perrum, Moreto, Tinta Grossa and Alicante Bouschet.  The wine was fermented on skins with stems in aged wooden vats, then aged in amphora for 9 months.  This is a bone dry, low alcohol style.  On the austere side, with dusty tannins.  It’s no quaffer but, with refreshing acidity, it is a distinctly gastronomic wine to pair with protein. 10.5% 3,000 bottles produced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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