Brought by the Romans to the Iberian Peninsula, perpetuated in time by the Alentejo. Today I tell you all about the ancient amphora wine!
Tradition says that on St. Martin’s Day (November 11th) you should go to the cellar to taste the new wine and that’s what I did!
I went to Vila Alva and Vila de Frade, in Vidigueira to taste the wine just out of the pot, exactly on that day.
But, what is amphora wine after all? It is an ancient technique, brought by the Romans to this side of the world and maintained until today, essentially in Alentejo.
The traditional method that is used in most wineries is to crush the grapes after separating them from the stalk, allowing the juice to mix with all the other elements.
This grape must is placed directly on the clay pots and remains there until (at least) the middle of November. However, it is necessary to stir the solid part with the liquid so the wine gets structure and flavor from the skin and stems.
Considering that the harvest usually takes place at the beginning of September, the wine is left to maceration for about two and a half months until it can be tasted for the first time.
The large amphora are coated inside with a paste made of beeswax, pine resin and olive oil.
Currently, amphora wine is very trendy which is great! But be careful, according to the Alentejo Regional Winegrowing Commission, you can only consider amphora wine when the must ferment together with the wine inside the size.
It is cheating to ferment wine in stainless steel and then transfer only the “juice” to the clay for the remaining days! Now you know 😉
I started off the day at Adega do Mestre Daniel – XXVI Talhas. And it is simple to understand the name, because inside the cellar there are twenty-six carvings that the grandchildren of the Mestre (“Master”) Daniel keep full of wine, in order to continue the legacy that the grandfather left them.
Here it was Daniel – the grandson – who welcomed me and told me a little bit more about the family tradition that goes into the third generation.
The amphora I could hear running at the bottom of the cellar was a smaller one, called “Tareco”. That’s why I started to taste the wines from the Tareco range, white and red.
I must confess that I never really cares much for white amphora wine, but with Daniel I learned that actually this wine is traditionally white, not red, made from regional grape varieties such as Antão Vaz, Diagalves, Perrum, Roupeiro, Manteitão and Larião. Oh and it is served in a small glass cup, not sophisticated, but according to the rusticity of the amphora tradition!
To aet along with the wine, Daniel prepared a rich table for me, at 10 am, with Alentejo bread, cheeses, olives and sausages roasted on the small clay grill.
In addition to the white and red Tareco, the entre level wines, I also tasted the Mestre Daniel wines whose maceration in wood is longer and therefore concentrates more flavor.
Once again, in the Mestre Daniel range it was the white that impressed me the most me with its aromas of pineapple syrup but dry in the mouth reminiscent of walnuts and toasted hazelnut.
A wine that undoubtedly matched the roasted sausages, with plenty of body and an acidity that went well with the fat from the chorizo.
It has been going on for four generations, dedicated to amphora wine. Teresa is the last generation, the apple of her grandfather Arlindo’s eyes, who gave her all the support when she decided to abandon the mining engineering course to study oenology and, thus, continue the wine production in this ancestral method.
“This is a special wine making” says Teresa, because making wine in amphora is not the most exact science and you have to be patient, have dedication and experience that you acquire over time.
In the small cellar of the 18th century, right in the center of Vila de Frades, Teresa takes care of each amphora under the “hangings”. After each harvest, some white grape clusters are hung from the cellar’s roof where they traditionally dry until the following year, but in the meantime at Christmas some of them are eaten already!
Gerações da Talha launches its bottled wine Farrapo (“monk’s robe”) this year for the first time, inspired by the worn and old garments that the Franciscan friars wore.
They produces white, red and “petróleo”. “Petróleo” wine is what we commonly know by pallet (mixture of white and red grapes). Because of its slightly purple hue, resembling oil, the name stayed.
I really enjoyed trying this “petroleiro”! As tradition dictates, it went straight from one of the amphora pots to my small glass.
It is a wine that maintains strong red fruit aromas in the nose but in the mouth, the flavor is softer and vegetable, with good acidity.
I have known this cellar for some years, or rather, the restaurant País das Uvas in Vila de Frades. A restaurant serving traditional Alentejo food where customers share a table with large clay pots (usually full of wine!)
On the day that the restaurant’s owner, António Honrado, decided to increase the dining room to an adjoining warehouse, he was in for a surprise. When breaking the ugly cement walls, walls of a cellar dating from the 19th century were found!
At that moment, the idea of increasing the restaurant was left out and Cella Vinaria Antiqua was born. It means “Adega Histórica” in Latin and here amphora wines are produced, signed by the winemaker Paulo Laureano.
António is the third generation of the Honrado family to produce amphora wine and his son Ruben already follows in his steps in the management of the winery.
And it is undoubtedly a place worth visiting! In this cellar you can learn more about the entire process of winemaking in amphora – through a very detailed video – organize private events as it is a very spacious cellar or do wine tasting.
And here I also learned what a “ladrão” (thief) is. This is the name given to cisterns buried under the ground that serve as security, in case a amphora breaks and spills all the wine, it is retained in the “thief” and thus recovered.
António filled my glass of red wine. I like amphora wines because of their rustic character, which, despite having fruity aromas from the grape, do not hide their winemaking method. In the mouth, it seems that I still feel that taste of wet dirt and light clay between the fruit.
From the description it may not seem very appealing to you perhaps…. but believe me, amphora wine is a special wine, with high quality and important part of Alentejo wine history!