Vinho de Talha: Amphora Wine

You can hardly avoid the Roman presence in Portugal’s Alentejo region. It’s not just the presence of Roman farm house ruins, each located within a few hundred meters of a modern farm house. Walk into any typical village “Adega” or “Taberna” and you’ll likely be dwarfed by rows of massive amphorae or wine pots. Called “talha”, these pots may be mere decoration—or they may actually contain up to 1000 liters of house-made wine called vinho de talha made exactly the way Romans made wine, amphora wine.

Pictured below is the interior of the Adega Regional Pais das Uvas, a restaurant in Vila de Frades which produces the vinho de talha it serves as a house wine along with traditional country fare from the Alentejo region of Portugal.

Interior of Adega Regional Pais das Uvas in Vila de Frades

The owners were kind enough to allow me to watch the process by which grapes become vinho de talha, a wine which locals claim contains more vitamins, more aroma and more body. I can’t vouch for the vitamins, but the wine poured at Pais das Uvas was certainly fragrant and deep, with an amazingly clarity, considering the simplicity of a process that doesn’t include mechanical filtering or fining.

Making Vinho de Talha, Wine the Roman Way

After mechanically destemming the bunches of grapes, the runoff consisting of broken skins and juice, which looks like a muddy sludge is collected and goes into the big pots, the talha. Despite the fairy tale circulating that wine could not be produced in biblical times because making it is a complex process requiring the addition of microscopic yeast cells—thus saving teetotaling Christians the dangerous idea that Jesus might have consumed an alcoholic beverage during his life rather than the patented and difficult to produce “grape juice”; throughout history, all you’ve ever needed to make wine is punctured ripe grapes, a stick and a storage vessel.

During fermentation, the skins float in a mass on top of the vat, and this mass is broken up and stirred each day for about 5 minutes using the wooden implement shown here.

Breaking the "cap" so the fermentation pressure doesn't break the amphora

The master stirrer climbs a ladder and rams the stirring mallet into the dense mat of grapes. This is done each day for 45 days. The wine is traditionally declared ready to drink on the 11th of November, Feira de São Martinho (Saint Martin day).

The contents of a full 1400 liter vat will eventually produce about 1000 liters of wine. When fermented fully, the skins drop to the bottom and provide a natural filtering medium when the wine is drawn from the bottom of the vat through a tap. Generally the wine is drunk very young, but longevity can be increased by floating olive oil on top, thus blocking air from oxidizing the wine.

Looking into the talha of fermenting wine.]

I tasted a vinho de talha almost a year old. It was in great shape.

Where do you find this Vinho de Talha

Vinho de talha is produced by small adegas and tabernas in the Alentejo region. It is also produced by many individuals. In fact, many, employed in the wine industry make Vinho de Talha at home.

There is even a festival route of vinho de talha tasting on the weekend closest to November 8th in the Alentejo.

I recommend the Pais das Uvas restaurant for tasting vinho de talha and learning a bit about the process. The restaurant Pais das Uvas offers traditional fare like Chicken in a blood sauce, which is not as gruesome as it sounds, being simply chicken in a very rich gravy enhanced with the addition of the blood that flowed out of the chicken when it was slaughtered. I also tried the cod bread-based soup, a main course consisting of a huge platter of fish, onions and potatoes, a big bowl of broth, and bread. You combine the three into a hearty soup, which in this case was redolent with the herb pennyroyal, a highly aromatic member of the mint family.

The Pais das Uvas is located on Rue Gen. Humberto Delgado, 19 7960-446 in Vila di Frades, Portugal. Phone – 284 441 023

Other Places to Taste Vinho de Talha in the town of Vila de Fredes

Taberna Casimiro (Mariano)
Rua André Martins, 4

Adega da Mariana

Taberna Amado Ferro
Rua Portas de Évora

Taberna Lemos
Rua Mestre Conceição Silva, 10

Remember that vinho de talha will be more difficult to find as summer approaches, as the wine is meant to be drunk very young. The Pais das Uvas served me a one year old vinho de talha that was still a wonderful and fruity wine.

Vinho de Talia, the Video

For an excellent description of the wine and how it’s different from commercial wines, this video will enlighten wine aficionados as to the spirit of the lightly processed grapes.

Enjoy your excursion into interesting wine made by real people.

Articles about the Alentejo

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