Talha Wines from Alentejo

Talha Wines is a winemaking technique developed by the Romans, using clay amphorae called talhas. The Alentejo wine region in Portugal has been a guardian of this technique and wine production. 

Generation after generation, passing by difficult periods of wine making in Alentejo, Talha winemaking survived for centuries. You will find different amphorae and ways to produce the wine. It will depend on the area in Alentejo you are visiting, you might learn different processes according to local traditions.

Talha Wines, Portugal, Alentejo Wine Region
Picture : Vinhos do Alentejo

We find modern wine estates making experiences and even limited editions of bottles using these clay vessels. They also introduced new techniques and equipment, due to knowledge of winemaking that exists in the present, avoiding to change this tradition. 

Traditional way of Talha Wines

Following the traditional way to make this wine, farmers would use the floor of the wineries for treading and crushing the grapes. During the floor construction with slabs usually they tilted toward the middle. Why? Because it allows them to run to the buried talha or cistern.

This buried cistern is commonly called Ladrão or Adorna, depending on the area. This cistern worked to back up a modern word. Why? Because in case any talha explodes during the gas accumulation of fermenting must , the wine will not be lost. In fact, it’s not rare that this can happen . 

When grapes arrive at the winery from the vines, they will be crushed. After this process was dumped into talhas . The crushing process is made in trays or tables with parallel wooden rods. The grapes are destemmed by hand to separate grapes from the stems. 

Talha Wines, Alentejo, Portugal
Picture : Vinhos do Alentejo

The stems they use for filtering the grape mass for some producers, while others prefer to use them. However, a small amount of sulphur dioxide will be add, mostly to eliminate any bacteria or less desirable yeasts. It is common that they must have some berries that remain intact, however during the fermentation it is stirred with a wooden paddle. This process, should happen twice a day to prevent the cap from preventing potential explosion. It is possible that it may be wrapped with rags or dampened burlap to keep temperature around 17º-18º Celsius degrees. 

Talha Wines Fermentation Process

Fermentation process will finish between 8 and 15 days and some weeks for the cap to settle to the bottom. Solids on the bottom will have a key role for the wine, filtering it. Talha usually have a hole between 20 and 30 cm from the bottom. Usually they are stopped up with a cork, which will be punctured and replaced by a spout.

It´s possible to serve directly, specially in custom taverns or drop to another talha during one to two days to keep it during the winter till next year ( or bottle it for distribution channel). Depends on the strategy of sales of each winemaker and the consumers they have in mind. It’s time to clean the first talha, everything will be remove manually, which means it should be a person with small size, since they need to go inside the clay pot. The whole process is the same for white or red wines

Modern wineries use talha exclusively for the fermentation process, after that, it´s mechanical pumps for stainless steel vat or wooden barrels. During a visit to Portugal or a wine tour in Alentejo, taste Talha Wines if possible.