What Exactly is Vinho de Talha (Clay Pot Wine)?

I love discovering specialist food and drink products during my travels, so my visit to Herdade de São Miguel in Alentejo, Portugal was an eye opener. It was at the winery’s modernist head quarters on its Pimenta estate that I first learned about the renaissance of vinho de talha.

I have already shared the story of the winery itself in my Taste of Alentejo post, but today I want to tell you about this unusual style of wine.

A Taste of Alentejo in Portugal on Kavey Eats-172620 A Taste of Alentejo in Portugal on Kavey Eats-172536

Vinho de talha (clay pot wines) are made using a technique developed and spread by the Romans and used to make wines in this region for at least 2000 years. Today, a number of local wineries are once again making natural wines in vintage clay pots, resurrecting a previously dying traditional product.

Crushed grapes (and some of the stems) are placed into huge clay pots to ferment, relying on natural wild yeasts rather than an addition of commercial yeasts. Some producers also add a little sulfur dioxide to eliminate bacteria and any of the weaker yeasts, leaving only the strongest natural strains to perform the fermentation process.

Because of the mass of grape skins and stems inside the talha – which naturally rise to the top of the pots during fermentation – the wines must be stirred at least once a day to break up the natural cap that these floating solids form. This allows the carbon dioxide to escape, rather than build up in pressure and cause the pots to crack or explode!

In addition, the pots are hosed down with cold water every day, to help keep the temperature inside from rising too high and killing off the yeasts that are transforming juice into wine. (Some vinho de talha producers, for example in Georgia, bury the talha in the earth, maintaining the temperature that way).

By the end of fermentation, the solids fall to the bottom, naturally filtering the new wine.

A Taste of Alentejo in Portugal on Kavey Eats-173854 A Taste of Alentejo in Portugal on Kavey Eats-172551 A Taste of Alentejo in Portugal on Kavey Eats-172634

At one time, all wine made in the Alentejo region was vinho de talha, with most small holders owning at least one clay pot to make wine for their own tables. But talha gradually fell out of use as modern wine-making techniques became the norm.

Two decades ago, it was easy for the first Alentejo wineries reviving the talha method to pick them up for a song but now that many wine producers have followed suit, there is more competition to buy these beautiful old clay pots; a bit of a bottle neck – if you’ll excuse the pun – since they are no longer produced new.

I wonder how long it will be before an artisan potter revives the craft of making new talha to support this wine renaissance?

A Taste of Alentejo in Portugal on Kavey Eats-085715 A Taste of Alentejo in Portugal on Kavey Eats-194836

To be classified as vinho de talha, the wines must remain in their clay pots at least until St Martin’s Day; the 11th November. This is a much longer fermentation time than modern wine production, and results in a very different flavour profile.

A Taste of Alentejo in Portugal on Kavey Eats-165702 A Taste of Alentejo in Portugal on Kavey Eats-180404

The finished wines are often very individual, with a lot of variation coming from the wild yeasts and the inconsistent temperatures that the contents of the talha are subjected to. These wines also have a real punch of acidity from the grape skins and stems.

St Martin’s Day is celebrated with the drinking of jeropiga – alcohol (usually brandy) is added to the wine to stop fermentation – and roasted chestnuts. This sounds like something I need to experience for myself and hope to explore further on future visits to the region.

Kavey Eats visited Alentejo as a guest of the Alentejo Tourist Board. Find out more at the Visit Alentejo and Visit Portugal websites.
With thanks to Nuno Franco, Herdade de São Miguel‘s general manager, for teaching me all about vinho de talha.

Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!
32 Comments to "What Exactly is Vinho de Talha (Clay Pot Wine)?"

  1. Linda

    This was the only region of Portugal we did not visit when we spent a month in Portugal. We certainly missed learning about this clay pot wine. I have never heard of this before. I don’t like the heavy oak taste that many wines pick up from oak barrels. Maybe this wine would be more to my taste. Need to make sure to try this when we finally visit the Alentejo part of Portugal. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    I hope you make it back to the Alentejo next time you go to Portugal, it’s a beautiful region!

    Reply
  2. kaveyeats

    This wine is actually made in the huge clay pots but it’s sold in regular wine bottles.

    Reply
  3. kaveyeats

    Yes, they are! I love the idea that they were previously owned by individual families to make wine for their own consumption!

    Reply
  4. Indrani

    Such an interesting procedure. Imagine having on whole pot to yourself. It is so sad that newer methods of wine making has come up, hopefully these old traditional methods aren’t forgotten.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Ha yes, that’d last a loooong time! The new methods allow for consistency and reliability and far more control of final flavour, so I totally don’t think they are a bad thing, but this resurgence of the old claypot method is an exciting addition I would say!

    Reply
  5. Nick Wheatley

    I love that they have revived this traditional way of making wine. It seems like a real gamble trusting in the natural yeast from the stems and skins rather than controlling the process a bit more with commercial yeast. But like you said – they must get some really unique and interesting wines from this process. I would love to try them out – guess I need to head to Portugal for St Martin’s Day!

    Reply
  6. sherianne

    Back to basics… Love this! I also love that each is unique. I’m not much of a drinker and have the feeling this would knock me on my butt!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yeah I am not a big drinker either, but I had tiny sips to taste! My companions drank the rest of the generous tasters for me!!

    Reply
  7. Sneha

    Such a lovely post about something we all love! And making wine in this traditional form – hats off to these guys! Adding sulfur dioxide to eliminate bacteria and weaker yeasts sounds like a brilliant tip to ferment it right. Would love to visit here someday!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    It’s a beautiful region to visit and the wineries, like this one, are wonderful attractions in their own right.

    Reply
  8. Paige W

    What a beautiful and unique wine experience. I’d love to try Vinho de Talha and luckily I’ll be in Portugal in four weeks to give it a shot! I’ll definitely try this wine this year!

    Reply
  9. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

    Whenever I learn about the process behind making wines like this in clay pots, it makes me wonder how they were discovered in the first place. Who actually realized the floating solids eventually sunk to the bottom and filtered the wine naturally and how did they learn this? It’s pretty remarkable. I’d love to give clay pot wine a taste to better understand the how the taste differs.

    Reply
  10. Lauren

    This is such an interesting way! I think that old methods are sometimes the best – why mess with perfection? I’d love to sample it myself. Yum!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    It’s very interesting! But not as consistent, or reliable, it’s hard to repeat the same wine twice, and it’s very labour intensive too, so for their main production, I understand why they use modern methods!

    Reply
  11. Luis Filipe Dias Carneiro

    This is nice and interesting to now about . When you say about chestnuts and jeropiga I will say next time you try new wine and boil chestnusts in the day of St. Martinho . When I say new wine is just enter from juice to wine , whish is not juice not wine . Also you can visit Porto and se the Porto wine . Many tanks for you to publishing about Alentejo Portugal.
    ”First believe then you see it .”

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    I loved the Alentejo and really hope to make it back, I know my husband would love it to so I want to show him this beautiful land!

    Reply
  12. Reshma

    I had never imagined having wine out of a clay pot until now, thanks to all the wine drinking in fancy glasses! I would love to try this, and loved how meticulous and interesting the whole process is!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, it’s the vessel they make it in but it’s usually served in same way as other wines, in a bottle!

    Reply
  13. Medha Verma

    That’s quite interesting, I did not know that you could do wine in clay pots also! Maybe I’ve had it but I never realised that its made in the clay pot? I’d love to try and see if I can sense any difference in the taste!

    Reply
  14. cardoso, jorge

    Just a hint: next time try to find certified DOC Alentejo Talha wines. The real thing.
    There are still a few small artisans working this way but off the tourism grid.
    “Piteira” in Amareleja or “Herdade dos Outeiros Altos” in Estremoz, to name a few. The last one 100% organic estate and vegan certified wines.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Thanks for the tips, I’d love to go back and explore this area in more depth, and would absolutely seek out some of the small artisans you have mentioned.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Adam Lukaszewicz Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *