The territory where is now Portugal was once part of the Roman Empire region of Iberia. The Romans brought their language, their architecture, their ways of living and also their ways of eating and drinking. They also introduced wine making in the Peninsula. And today, some 2000 years later, in the southern region of Alentejo, we keep using their amphoras. With you, Portugal winery tours: roman wines.
Land of amphoras
The first time I went inside an Alentejo wine cellar full of huge amphoras – in Portuguese “talhas” – I was blown away. The huge clay vessels, all lined up against the walls, remind you of the Ancient times, when Latin was spoken – and resemble places like Rome or Pompeii. With a huge difference: unlike the artifacts on those ruins, this “talhas” are still very much used today. Filled with delicious whites and reds, you can ask for a glass, straight from the amphoras, and drink like a Roman.
So, why, 2000 years later, many companies still produce the “Vinho de Talha”, or Amphora Wine? Well, they relate to a millenial know how. A Talha is a clay pot, more or less porous, according to the type of material it is made of. The purpose is to allow the fermentation of wine must and its storage. The same amphorae were used by the Romans to store other liquids, like olive oil and a fish sauce called Garum.
Once the Talhas are manufactured, the inside is sealed with a natural resinous substance, called pez. This is a special occasion and in the old days a very happy one. All the family would get together and celebrate the fact that a new vessel was added to the cellar. Today, in a Portugal winery tours: roman wines, you can join the party.
The Alentejo is one of the biggest wine regions in Portugal.
Special harvest, antique production
Once all over the Portuguese land, the Vinho de Talha – Amphora Wine – is today unique to the Alentejo. This southern area is one of the biggest wine regions in Portugal. Municipalities like Vidigueira, Cuba e Alvito are some of the places where the “roman wine” is still very much present.
After the harvest, the grapes are selected, crushed and they go inside the clay vessels. Between 24 and 48 hours, the natural fermentation starts. And for the next two weeks, every morning, the winemakers stir the mix with wood sticks. In me meantime, the temperature outside de Talhas is controlled, pouring cold water on the outside clay walls and wrapping them with moist burlap.
When fermentation is over, the Talhas are undisturbed for a few weeks. And then, usually around November 11th – Saint Martin’s Day – they are open and the new harvest is ready for the first tasting. In some of the most traditional cellars, the wine is never bottled: it is poured from a small tap on the bottom.
Drink like a Roman
For you and me, with little room for huge Roman amphoras, there are several ways to enjoy Vinho de Talha. One of them is during a Portuguese Wine Tasting with the Lisbon Winery experts. The other is travelling to the Alentejo region and be guided to some of the best spots, during a Day Trip to Alentejo.
And what can you expect from this type of wines? For the reds, the main grape varieties are Portuguese native ones: for instance, Trincadeira, Aragonês, Castelão, Alfrocheiro and Moreto. The result: ruby color, and strong aromas, with notes of jam, black berries and cocoa and balanced acidity.
The whites also rely on Portuguese native grapes. Examples: Antão Vaz, Perrum, Rabo de Ovelha, Roupeiro and Manteúdo. They are known for a palett of colors that go from straw to deep golden. On the mouth, the variety remains. Some of them have smoked and spiced notes, with vegetable inspiration and good minerality, almost saline. Others present a clean and fresh aroma of very ripe fruit, even with some resin. The palate is full and smooth, with balance and freshness.
Either reds or whites, the Vinhos de Talha are unique. Their history, heritage and culture are worth attention and how many times can you say that you are drinking just like a Roman?