Talha Tales

Portugal’s Ancient Answer to Amphora Wines

by Paul James White

Where to buy

United States             United Kingdom            Australia & New Zealand            

France        Italy          Netherlands          Germany          Spain 

Japan         India          Brazil 

Talha Tales Reviews

Review in World of Fine Wine by Sarah Ahmed

Talha Tales_ Sarah Ahmed World of Fine Wine.pdf

Review in Circle of Wine Writers by L.M. Archer

Talha Wines_ Portugal’s Modern Take on Ancient Amphora Wines - L.M. Archer.pdf

Review in Din Vin Guide by Bjarne Mouridsen

Regarding Talha Tales - paul@winedisclosures.com - Wine Disclosures Mail.pdf

Review in The Circular by L.M. Archer

Review_ Talha Tales, Portugal's Ancient Answer to Amphora Wines LM Archer- Circle of Wine Writers.pdf

Review in winenous by Steve Slatcher 

Talha Tales – book review – winenous Steven Slacker.pdf

Review in Oregon Wine Press by Neal D. Hulkower

Talha Wine Tales Dr Neal hulkower Oregon Wine Press.pdf



Gato’s Last Tasca

Talha: A Perfect Winemaking Machine

Talha’s Resurrection

Then vs Now

To Pés or not to Pés…

Talha at the Center of Village Life

Talha’s Traditional Grape Varieties

Potted History, Then and Now

Jupiter’s Lift Off

A New Concept of Terroir & Grand Cru

Final Thoughts on Beautiful Pots



Cooperativa Adega de Borba

Cortes de Cima

Herdade do Esporão


Gerações da Talha

Honrado & Pais das Uvas

Jose de Sousa

Adega Marel

Herdade dos Outeiros Altos

Quinta da Pigarça & Adega do Canena

Casa Relvas

Herdade do Rocim

Rui Reguinga and Terrenus

Susana Esteban

Adega Cooperativa Vidigueira, Cuba and Alvito

XXVI Talhas


A Brief History of Alentejo

Visiting the Alentejo

Visiting the Regions

Eating in Alentejo

For the Virtual Tourist

An excerpt from Talha Tales...

Chapter One - Gato’s Last Tasca

Antonio Gato in his tiny village tasca in Arcos

Leaving behind the sweltering southern Portuguese sun beating down on the sleepy little Alentejo village of Arcos, I pulled apart a clattering string of anti-fly beads hanging over an unmarked door and entered. I was in Arcos’s last remaining tasca.  

The scene was not unlike one from Pompeii, days before it met its fateful ending. The cool, narrow room had barely enough space to swing a cat, let alone for its two tiny tables. A couple of old men hunched over one, talking intensely, leaning back momentarily as the owner delivered a plate of petiscos (Portuguese style tapas). On the opposite wall stood my reason for being there: a couple of giant, egg-shaped clay pots (talha in Portuguese, pronounced somewhere between tal-ha and tal-yah). 

Talha, like these, had been used for making wine in this part of Portugal continually since Roman times - perhaps longer. 

I sat down. Taking a small straight-sided water glass off the shelf, 65-year-old owner Antonio Gato bent down near ground level and twisted a tiny cork that was stoppering the talha. Filling the glass to the brim, he offered me its golden liquid.  

It was like no wine I'd tasted before: relentlessly mineral, a touch honeyed with a hint of aniseed, its full body cut through with firm, fine tannins and just a whisper of acidity. It was white wine pretending to be red. Half expecting his red to be rough and rustic, surprisingly it had the freshness of Beaujolais Nouveau, but more developed, fuller-bodied, softer and much more richly-fruited. Both were easily the best twenty-five cents I’d ever spent. I was drinking history on the cheap!


Although Senhor Gato’s little neighborhood tasca was only officially licensed in 1930, its traditional offerings and winemaking practices stretch back deeply into an unrecorded past…the ancient vinous answer to the modern brew pub.

Every September Antonio’s café would close down, and the talha would be cleaned and resurfaced inside with a fresh mixture of pés (pronounced pesh). Soon the new batch of grapes would arrive from the surrounding vineyards to be crushed, with both must and skins, filling the talha. Fermentation would burble away naturally for a couple of weeks, and when finished, a micro-thin layer of olive oil would be added to the surface to protect the new wine from oxidation. No need for sulphur or filtration, this was a winemaker's answer to ‘set and forget,’ one-pot, slow cooking. 

Gato, and other villagers making wine only for family use, would leave the wine to mature until St. Martin’s Day: November 11. Soon after, talhas within the village would be tapped for the first taste of the vintage. The ensuing festivities would carry on into the early morning and weeks that followed.

By the time I first visited Antonio Gato’s tasca over a decade ago, these traditions were already coming to an end. More worrying, the greater talha winemaking tradition was on the knife edge of extinction. 

The old, mixed vine, field-blended grape varieties common in the past had been replaced, in Gato’s case, with just two whites, Roupeiro and Rabo de Ovelha, and two reds, Alicante Bouschet and Aragonez (Tempranillo); the latter beating Beaujolais Nouveau Day to the punch by centuries.

A more disturbing development was the steady downward spiral in small-scale wine production like his, and the likelihood that Gato would be the last to carry on his ancestors’ tradition. Northerners used to stop by and fill 20-liter jugs on their way home from holidaying along the Algarve, but this ended as they increasingly opted to buy bag-in-box from their local supermarkets. The modern taste for fresher, fruitier wine and flamboyant oak-barrel characters furthered the steady decline in sales. 

No one was interested in continuing Gato’s tasca after he retired. The half dozen talha in his annex across the street sat empty. The tasca’s working pots were making just enough to carry his last remaining customers through the next vintage. Tascas had become a dying breed.

Sadly, Gato’s tasca is now closed - although hopefully not forever. 

Because talha wine is in the midst of a Renaissance that will ensure its survival far into the future… 

Chapter Two - Talha: A Perfect Winemaking Machine

Cross-section of mother mae - fermenting grapes within a talha

The First Time

Remembering the first time I faced one of these magnificent old winemaking pots, purely from a technological standpoint, it was stunning how brilliantly simple, indeed beautiful, the formal composition was: a funnel, atop a globe, set into a cone. 

Dump crushed grapes into the top, wait a couple of months for fermentation and gravity to do their work, then drain crystal-clear wine from a hole at the bottom. Drink up until empty, repeat yearly…for centuries…for millennia. 

The grapes introduced are transformed into wine with very pure grape characters, derived only from pulp, skins and native yeast. No need for chemical additions, nor artificial filtering. Talha are the vinous equivalent of ‘three chords and the truth.’ 

Compared to modern winemaking technology and practices, talha offer similar positives without their downsides. Talha essentially preserve the fruit purity created by stainless steel’s neutral fermentation, but without metal-made wine’s sharp-edged rawness. Countering steel’s negatives, talha’s porous walls let in just enough oxygen to burnish textures and soften tannins, replicating the transformative micro-oxygenation produced by oak barrels, but - and this is a big, significant but - without oak’s intrusive aromas, flavors and tannins. Purity remains undone. 

Talha winemaking is relatively hands-off and gravity-driven. Bitter seeds sink to the lowest point in the pot’s V,  the percolating wine protected from their astringency by a covering of skins and dead yeast cells (lees). Internal convection currents inside a curvaceous potbelly naturally stir yeast lees, ensuring labor-free, batonless bâtonnage

From an ecological standpoint, once the initial CO2 expenditure of firing the pots is paid up, thereafter the vessel shouldn’t need replacement for centuries. Talhas do not require electricity for cooling, instead using evaporative water applied externally, to lower fermentation and maturation temperatures by as much as 20ºC/36ºF. 

Weighing all this up, talhas seem to lack all the faults of modern winemaking vessels while offering a distinct set of advantages. And this is delivered through one pretty cool piece of ancient technology, which ironically, just happens to be the world’s newest winemaking machine! 

Forward through the past 

Going back to the turn of the last millennium, not many of us realized wine could be made in clay pots, let alone that such wine would be even marginally palatable to our modern taste. At that point, the modern ‘amphora’ wine movement, based around northern Italy’s Josko Gravner, had barely been conceived and was just beginning its earliest explorations of what might be possible. Archaeologists were still in the first stages of digging up evidence of the earliest terracotta winemaking pots associated with ancient Georgian, Armenian, Phoenician, Greek and Roman winemaking cultures.

Although modern day Georgia maintained a continuous clay pot winemaking tradition going back 6000-8000 years, few outside of that country knew much about it. Fewer still knew anything about Portugal’s well-hidden talha secret, linking back to Roman wine.

My first conscious encounter with clay-made wine was in southern Italy’s Campania region in the mid-2000s. There, Luigi Tecce was puzzling out how to make wine from the Aglianico grape, using both ancient Greek and Roman recipes, and fermenting in two different styles of terracotta pots from each ancient culture. His experimental Aglianico was as convincingly good as anything I’d had from conventionally-made Aglianico from either the Vulture or Taurasi regions. Actually, it was more interesting. It made me realize the ancients, with their so-called ‘primitive’ technology, had the capacity to make quite excellent wine. 

Like many modern attempts at terracotta winemaking I’ve observed first hand since then in Istria, Croatia, Slovenia, Friuli, South Africa and more, Luigi’s work involved interpreting somewhat vague instructions from ancient Roman and Greek texts, a fair bit of guesswork and a whole lot of trial and error. 

Antonio Gato’s wine, on the other hand, was like a living fossil, handed down through generations, with a clear, direct lineage going straight back to the earliest days of Roman winemaking. The knowledge was still there and being shared. 

The Georgians too have an unbroken multi-thousand-year history of qvevri clay pot winemaking. But the northern Caucasus’s qvevri traditions differ fundamentally from talha’s southern Mediterranean traditions. The irony is that when Gravner and his fellow northern Italians attempted to relearn how to make ‘Roman-like’ wine in amphora, they had no idea that a genuine Roman tradition had survived intact in Alentejo. Instead, they adopted the traditional practices of Georgian qvevri as their model.

Although all terracotta technology and winemaking practices share many similarities, there are significant differences between qvevri and talha, resulting in quite different wine styles. 

The biggest technological differences are that qvevri are buried underground, sealed at the top with damp clay for six months and thereafter drained with a bucket from the top. Talha are free-standing, sealed with a top layer of olive oil to protect against oxidation and, cleverly, are drained via gravity through taps at their base. 

Stylistically the major difference, apart from the grapes used, is that qvevri wine is kept on its skins for six months, which makes it considerably more tannic (astringent) than talha wine, which only has two to three months of skin contact and is ready to drink earlier. 

After repeated trips to both Georgia and Alentejo, I came to view qvevri and talha as the beginning and ending of the evolutionary refinement of clay pot winemaking technology over a 4000-6000 year period; stretching from qvevri’s antiquarian origins, through to talha’s supposed birth around 2000 years ago and the perfection of terracotta as a winemaking vessel.  

Fortunately for the Georgians, qvevri traditions remain very much alive and healthy, and central to Georgian winemaking culture. Less fortunately, at that point, Portugal’s ancient unbroken talha traditions were considerably less secure. 

When I first began searching out talha-made wines back around 2010, and finally tasted some in 2012, there were just a handful of tascas and family producers still active, another handful of professional winemakers focused on Alentejo’s relatively new Vinho de Talha DOC designation, and one quixotic attempt to resurrect factory scale production. 

All were actively trying to keep talha traditions alive. It was a precarious situation with talha barely holding on by its proverbial finger nails, dangerously on the edge of extinction.