Tuesday, March 5, 2019

2017 Herdade do Rocim Amphora: Preserving The Talha In Alentejo

When you hear about amphora, skin contact, or orange wines, you're likely to think of countries such as Georgia, Italy and Slovenia. Portugal probably doesn't immediately come to mind although it has a two-thousand year old history with amphora wines. That may change in the near future if the Talha wines of the Alentejo region gain more attention and publicity.

Although I've known about talha wines for a few years, it was only recently that I've seen any available in Massachusetts. At Pamplemousse, in Reading, I found the 2017 Herdade do Rocim Amphora Vinho Tinto ($17.99) and I picked up a couple bottles because I was intrigued.

Wines fermented on their skins in talha (a Portuguese word for amphorae), has a history extending back two thousand years to the ancient Romans. This tradition in the Alentejo region has been maintained throughout the centuries though the advent of more modern wine-making techniques led to a massive decrease in its use. There has been a recent resurgence though in the use of talha, even leading to the creation of its own DO, the Vinho de Talha DOC

It states on their website, "According to etymologists, the term “talha” comes from the Latin “Tinalia” and that refers to large pot or vessel. A talha, therefore, is a pot that varies in its porosity depending on its intended use and the type of clay it is made from. It is used for fermenting grape juice and storing several liquids, especially wine and olive oil. The talha comes in a range of sizes and shapes, according to the potter’s working style and the local traditions where it is made. It is rarely stands taller than two metres in height and rarely exceeds a ton in weight; it can hold up to 2,000 litres of must."

The Herdade do Rocim estate was purchased in 2000 by the late Jose Vieira, founder of Movicortes, S.A., a holding company which specializes in agricultural machinery. Jose's daughter, Catarina Vieira, leads the operations of the estate, which is located in the Baixo Alentejo. The estate consists of about 120 hectares, with 70 under vine. The vineyards are broken down into 53 hectares of red grapes and 17 hectares of whites. Some of the planted grapes include Alicante Bouschet, Antão Vaz, Aragonez, Manteúdo, Moreto, Perrum, Rabo de Ovelha,  Roupeiro, Tinta Grossa, Touriga Nacional, and Trincadeira.

Their stated mission is "...to produce wines in a sustainable manner, respecting the social, cultural and natural matrix of the region." They are also low interventionists, such as only using indigenous yeasts. Some of their vineyards are certified organic while others are organic, though not yet certified.  They wish to emphasize the terroir of their vineyards, while maintaining sustainability. In addition, they wish to preserve the ancient tradition of the talha.

The 2017 Herdade do Rocim Amphora Vinho Tinto is a blend of indigenous Portuguese grapes including 50% Moreto, 30% Tinta Grossa, 15% Trincadeira, and 5% Aragonez. Both Moreto and Tinta Grossa are more unique to the Alentejo region so it is rare to see them in any other Portuguese wines. Such an intriguing mix of grapes! The vineyards are organic, though not certified, and the wine was fermented in the talha, without any temperature control and using indigenous yeasts. Afterwards, the wine was aged for three months in the bottle.

At only 12% ABV, the wine has a deep red color with an interesting nose of earth and red fruits, with a mild floral note. On the palate, it was fresh, with deep and complex flavors of plum, black cherry, and blackberry, an earthy backbone, and a mild tomato accent. The tannins were well integrated, the acidity was good, and the finish was fairly long. There was a certain uniqueness of its complex flavor profile, though it certainly reminded me of other Portuguese wines. This is a wine that would pair well with hearty dishes, a thick stew, a juicy steak, or a humble burger.

A fine introduction to Talha wines from Alentejo, though I definitely need to find more such wines to taste. And at its price, about $18, it is a good value for the quality, complexity and taste of this wine. As I've long and often said, Portugal offers some of the best wine values in the world.


Unknown said...

Richard, who imports this wine?

Anonymous said...

Just sipped a 2018. My first reaction? "Has this spoiled?" It had an unusual mix of effervesence and a slightly vinegary quality. However, letting the chilled bottle "breathe" (20 min.) and considering its formation made it more palatable. But for the price, I'd definitely pass next time. Purists may find some ancient flavors here. Me, not so much.