Unusual wines, part one: Vinho de Talha, Alentejo, Portugal

Drinks: Drinks, Wines

Nothing sells a wine quite as well as a memorable backstory. In this five-part series, Jacopo Mazzeo explores wine styles with impressive tales to tell

Vinho de Talha must be Europe’s best-kept wine secret. Before Josko Gravner swapped barriques for qvevris, winemakers in rural Alentejo were already making wine in traditional clay amphorae called talhas. This custom has been around since Roman times and is still very much alive today.

Modern producers tend to use talhas as mere fermentation or maturation containers, as many winemakers do elsewhere. But in adegas with more traditional practices, grapes are trodden on by foot on the winery floor, which tilts towards the centre so that run-off juice can converge into a buried talha.

The winemakers use this same process for both red and white wines. In fact, red and white grapes may occasionally be vinified together to make a rosé called petroleiro.

Either way, crushed berries, often with stalks, are left in contact with the juice for the whole length of the fermentation. Rustic talha wine is designed for early consumption, so much so that ‘opening of the talha’ festivities are celebrated each year on 11 November, St Martin’s Day.

Grapes used are those allowed in the Alentejo DOC, such as Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet, Antão Vaz, Arinto, Fernão Pires and Trincadeira. Most whites tend to show a certain degree of oxidation, despite winemakers’ very Mediterranean expedient of leaving a thin layer of olive oil floating on top of the cap.

When the wines develop an umami, saline character, they become perfect companions to Alentejo-style pork with clams.

One for your list

Bojador Vinho de Talha Alentejo 2016

Made from Trincadeira, Moreto and Tinta Grossa grapes from the Vidigueira sub-region of Beja in Portugal, this wine uses minimal intervention, indigenous yeasts and no temperature control.

Vidigueira has a relatively temperate microclimate that contributes to the wine’s freshness. Red-fruit aromas and a well-structured palate lead to a lingering mineral finish.

£16.67, Davy’s Wine Merchants

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