Talha ho! Herdade do Rocim Clay Aged 2015 – amphorae in Alentejo
Talha wines – wines fermented on skins in amphorae in Alentejo – have grown like topsy since 2015, when I spent a fascinating week exploring the region’s talha tradition and revival. Since the category was ‘officially endorsed’ in 2010 with its own DOC – Vinho de Talha DOC – production has risen sevenfold from 3200l (2011) to 54,027l in 2017. Forget the grapes, that’s a lot of clay!
While my 2015 visit revealed that talha wines – amphorae in Alentejo – were back in business, producers were scouring the countryside, garden centres even, for these beautiful and rather sizeable clay vessels (check out my 2015 post here for pictures of these gorgeous pots and more on their history).
So I was pleased to learn from Portuguese Story’s Roman Gonitel that Quinta do Montalto are developing a project to make wine amphorae in Alentejo with a local potter – José Miguel of Casa das Talhas. Apparently, they are working on the classic larger volume Alentejo talha amphorae now. “Everything is made by hand. They started last harvest coating amphoras with natural products (pine resin, wax, as opposed chemical synthetic epoxies),” said Gonitel.
Check out this 2015 post for my report on the rebirth of talha wines, including the Herdade do Esporão Vinho de Talha Vinhas Velhas on tasting tonight at Portuguese Wine School, Spitalfields Market, together with Heradade São Miguel Art. Terra Amphora 2016.
Meanwhile, producers have been casting elsewhere for amphorae. And diverting from tradition in other respects. Take Herdade do Rocim, who make wines in talha, but have also gone small – 140l – for new top tier wine Herdade do Rocim Clay Aged 2015. Winemaker Pedro Ribeiro told me that this wine is aged (and not fermented) in unlined clay pots (pictured below). Originally designed by a French University, the pots aim to reproduce the same micro-oxygenation as a new oak barrel. Hence the size and shape.
However, Rocim have gone uber-local in another way. The vats for this wine were made with clay from Herdade do Rocim estate, “trying again to express our terroir as much as we can,” he said. You’ll find my notes on this ever so sophisticated clay aged wine below and, if you fancy checking out the foray into clay trend yourself, there are still places at tonight’s Alentejo Masterclass at Portuguese Wine School tonight. The line up is pretty spiffing and includes Herdade do Rocim’s excellent Antão Vaz, Olho de Mocho.
- Herdade do Esporão Reserva Branco 2016 (Reguengos de Monsaraz) – Esporão were at the bleeding (cutting) edge of modern Alentejo and, just to reinforce that, their very first release was the Reserva Branco – still a benchmark white.
- Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho 2012 – a modern take on a sub-regional speciality, Antão Vaz from Vidigueira – ageworthy too, see my report on a vertical here
- Cabeças do Reguengo Equinócio 2013 – owned by a wine writer and former lead ballet dancer, this Burgundy-like white comes from an organically cultivated old field blend estate at 598m in Portalegre, which I was thrilled to visit last year – my report here
- Susana Esteban Aventura Tinto 2014 – award-winning winemaker Susana Esteban’s unoaked entry-level red is an elegant, very skilful, blend of fruit from Estremoz and Portalegre. The Wine Society’s Portugal buyer and I included this in our top 3 at a Decanter Alentejo panel tasting, so it’s well worth seeking out.
- Co-operativa Agrícola de Granja-Amareleja Moreto 2013 – this unoaked Moreto red from rare “Pe Franco” (ungrafted) vines could not be more different from Esteban’s Aventura – it’s proper rustic!
- Heradade São Miguel Art. Terra Amphora 2016 – the once despised Moreto variety plays an important role in this modern, fresh and fruit-driven talha blend from leading modernistas, São Miguel, in Redondo
- Herdade do Esporão Vinho de Talha Vinhas Velhas 2016 – Portalegre’s cool climate and old field blend vines shine through in this more structured Talha red.
- Cabeças do Reguengo Seiva 2014 – former ballet dancer João Afonso treads lightly to create this elegant old field blend red from vines at 500-720m in Portalegre, Alentejo
- Cabeças do Reguengo Solstício 2013 – from organically cultivated old field blend estate fruit at 598m, this is Afonso’s fuller-bodied, meatier Portalegre red
- Monte da Ravasqueira Vinas das Romas 2013 – this super-accomplished Syrah/Touriga Franca blend always takes my breath away – great structure and terroir-driven individuality.
- Quinta do Mouro 2010 – ironically, this tooth/palate staining, well-structured red is crafted by a dentist; a favourite Alentejo estate blend from the quality hot-spot that is Estremoz
- Cartuxa Pêra-Manca Tinto 2008 – this much sought after iconic red hails from Évora’s Carthusian cellars – expect plenty of polish from this (£250+ a pop) Alentejo classic
- Dona Maria Júlio Bastos Alicante Bouschet 2007 – this rare teinturer (red-fleshed grape) – a French crossing of Petit Bouschet & Grenache – thrives in Alentejo and produces among its top wines. Here it flies solo and, if you’re going to be foot-trodden, why not in marble lagares!
Herdade do Rocim Clay Aged 2015 (DOC Alentejo, Vidigueira)
This wine is an idiosyncratic blend of estate-grown, hand-harvested Alicante Bouschet, Petit Verdot, Trincadeira and Tannat grown on poor soils – predominantly granite and schist. Following a manual selection on a vibrating sorting table, the grapes were fully destemmed and lightly crushed, then foot trodden and fermented in lagares with indigenous yeasts. The resulting wine was aged for 16 months in 140l clay pots, then eight months in bottle. It is a deep, bright hue with vivid purple flashes when you swirl it in the glass. When I tasted it, I hadn’t received the fiche detailing the varietal composition. Its colour, structure (firm, tight, fresh, with a fine rub of chalky tannins) and intense spicy black currant and berry fruit, with its edge of cassia bark – quite a dry profile for Alentejo – pointed me in the direction of Alicante Bouschet meets Bordeaux. Not bad! On day two, it had opened up a little, revealing riper, sweeter notes – hints of jube, tangy plums skins and baked plum and a bloodier ironstone tang. The juicy, blackcurranty core of fruit is a constant, accompanied by notes of liquorice and tobacco leaf. Perhaps it’s the blend, perhaps it’s the clay pots, but this wine has a very unique, intriguing mouthfeel. While the tannins are ripe and fine, they are plentiful and cleave to the palate. The acidity is dynamic too. Persistent, yes, but also part of this wine’s tangy ‘plum skin slipperiness’ of texture and taste. It is an exciting, daring wine, still forming in bottle. No problem, because it has time on its side . My hunch is that it will be worth the wait. 14.5%