Herdade do Rocim Clay Aged Branco

A very unusual white from the Alentejo

I have had my eye on this bottle for some time at Apolónia since it appeared on the shelves a few months ago, but I had been reluctant to part with so much money to try something that may end up being disappointing. This is so often the case with premium price tag whites here in Portugal, and the price of €34.95 for this Alentejo white is certainly premium. But I managed to justify the investment last weekend, in part because I am very curious about the trend of clay-ageing but also because I have been enduring a so-far partially dry January (a few days a week without drinking) which saves not only calories and my liver but also money, so I felt I deserved a little treat.

Ageing wine in clay vessels (amphorae) is a technique that goes back thousands of years, and whilst it never disappeared from the Alentejo where “vinho da talha” remains a strong tradition, it was not until recently that the modern wineries started to experiment with it.

This is a trend that has been growing not only here in Portugal but also around the wine-making world. Most producers follow the traditional technique of lining the inside of clay pots with pine resin and olive oil to reduce micro-oxygenation, but here at Herdade do Rocim they have taken things a step further. The winery collaborated with a French university to create their own small amphorae of just 140 litres, made of clay from their own estate, specially designed to be used unlined allowing similar rates of micro-oxygenation to new French oak.

This white, made from a blend of Verdelho, Viosinho and Alvarinho grapes, was foot trodden in a traditional open stone fermenter and fermented with the skins before ageing in the clay pots. This is actually what is known as an “orange wine”, extracting the colour and tannins from the skin like a red wine.

The wine is a deep golden/amber colour, very subtle on the nose with notes of wet stone and honey. In the mouth, the texture is quite similar to a dry Fino sherry, with firm acidity and the tannins ensuring a very dry finish.

By Patrick Stuart
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