Winemakers, if you’re even thinking about using amphora, you need to read this one.

Breezing Through Talha Tales? Impossible, and here’s why. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I couldn’t be just breezing through. I started by wanting to absorb the details of history from author Dr. Paul James Whites. But, his last 12 years of absorption, from being “there” firsthand (meeting, and researching), wasn’t a walk in the park for me to read. Nor was it a book to be read over a cup of coffee. It’s a book that requires significant concentration, effort, and engagement. It’s intellectually demanding. I found myself taking it almost page by page, assimilating each one for a while, before going onto the next. Please don’t get me wrong, what was intricately woven in amazingly wonderful way. Paul created a dense tapestry of ideas that required my careful consideration. His findings have illuminated new perspectives on an old subject matter, for wine appreciators. And therein lies the magic.

 

Dr. Paul James White

Dr. Paul James White with the completion of Talha Tales, Portugal’s Ancient Answer to Amphora Wines, Jennifer Mortimer Publisher/Editor

Meeting of Minds

I met Paul one November’s late afternoon, at Adega Regional Pais das Uvas. It also turned into dinner at Adega Regional, November 2023, through Tiago Caravana, from the Wines of Alentejo. From meeting Paul and then receiving his book, I’m assured of his level of professionalism. For instance, Paul James White, PhD has a passion for appreciating the past and acknowledging it’s morphing into the future. And, he defines a very fine line between then and now.

ADEGA REGIONAL PAIS DAS UVAS 8p

ADEGA REGIONAL PAIS DAS UVAS

He writes: “Many talha are stamped with Master’s names, trademarks, production dates, and places of manufacture. These easily contain enough data (going back to 1655) to flesh out a dandy PhD thesis focused on historical production. Many of these trademarks indicate multi-generations, indeed whole dynasties, of pot makers.”

From Alentejo Come Alive

It also became apparent that I couldn’t just be breezing through Talha Tales, because the history included a need for respect.

Romans in Alentejo, Portugal: “Portugal, for more than 700 years, from Third Century BC to the Fourth Century AD, building cities, establishing civil government, farming the land, and connecting settlements with a network of roads. Rome left lasting imprints: wine production, the use of aqueducts such as those in Evora and Elvas, and Portugal’s Latin-based language. Even the characteristic calçada pavements are thought to have their origin in Roman mosaics. Here are the best places to go in the Alentejo to find reminders of the Romans’ long stay.”
Calçada Pavement

Calçada Pavement

Why did the Romans retreat? Was it for military over-extension, barbarian invasions, strategic considerations, economic strains, or internal stability? My ADHD stimulated my curiosity and why I just can’t read something this fascinating over a cup of coffee.

The Roman Temple of Évora

The Roman Temple of Évora

Whatever their culture was at the time seemed to also include indigenous habits developed in the Alentejo and nowhere else, exactly the same way. Paul White has delineated and captured more than ever known, in his anthology called Talha Tales, subtitled, “Portugal’s Ancient Answer to Amphora Wines.” He’s unearthing them is fair to say.

This was found in an interview on The Circle of Wine Writers: Paul White:

[Q] You’ve just published your book on the talha wines of Alentejo after several years of research. What kept you particularly engaged with the wines there?

[A] How talha have reshaped the amphora movement remains an ongoing story. The unbroken chain of Roman technology – in fact, it probably goes back to before the Phoenicians – and the continuous oral history continues to bring a wealth of experience to all forms of amphora wine. The wines have much shorter periods of skin contact than Georgian qvevri styles. Talha are much closer to modern wine styles, sharing barrel fermentation qualities, but are more purely fruited and untainted by oak’s aromas, flavours and tannins.

In love with wine? In love with wine travel? Interested in wine history? Want to get to the heart of the Alentejo region? I can’t image any better place than the Alentejo, for all of this book’s captivation in a particular dissected history.

Talhas in the wine cellar of Adage de Cima

Talhas in the wine cellar of Adage de Cima.

Final thought from Paul James White: “I never really touched on…this… before, but these people were poor and forgotten and made to feel primitive and needing to catch up with the times and pressured to leave traditions behind. Much of that in wine was pressure to make imitation Australian and Californian wine styles using French grapes that were easier to sell. By standing still the rest of the world came around to appreciate they are making wine that is specially native, totally sustainable and distinctively interesting for its authenticity. Talha have all the advantages of French oak barrels without the disadvantages of smelling, tasting and tannic bitterness. Old tech is quite progressive in its essence. And that’s pretty cool for the local culture to realize and take pride in again.

A debt of gratitude goes out to Jane Kettlewell at Creative Palate, and Tiago Caravana at The Wines of Alentejo.