Ancient Tradition Meets Ultra-Modern Styling in Portugal's Herdade do Rocim
According to general manager and oenologist Pedro Ribeiro, Herdade do Rocim has “probably the most expensive amphorae in the world.”
Rocim sent clay from their ancient vats – a staple of aging wine in Alentejo for centuries – to a university in Montpelier for analysis, in order to create newer amphorae that had the same porosity as French oak barrels. these are the things you can afford to do, I suppose, when you are part of three estates (the others being in Lisbon and the Douro, with another joint venture in Vinho Verde) and produce upwards of one million bottles of wine per annum.
Rarely do the modern and the traditional meet quite as abruptly as they do in Rocim’s Vidiguiera winery, where those 250+-year-old clay pots – many larger than a full-gorwn adult (“you need a very thin guy to go in and scrub” to clean them, warned Riberio when I visited Rocim last year as part of a media tour) – are housed in a spartan, state-of-the-art winemaking facility.
To top off the traditional feel, a layer of olive oil is used to, well, top off the talha clay vats in order to protect aging wines from oxidation, with many of the wines made using wild yeasts, and receiving minimal sulfite additions (“my idea,” Riberio mused, “is not to mask the wines”). Thankfully, these are far more than marketing gimmicks, as the results of Rocim’s efforts are well worth the search for the curious (and thirsty)…
2018 Herdade do Rocim Branco (Vinho Regional Alentejano)
The sites from which Rocim’s branco (a blend primarily of Anton Vaz and Arinto) are sourced are granitic and hilly, trapping cooler, humid winds, helping to preserve freshness in the grapes. Yeasty and perfumed, there’s nice (and delicious) interplay here between the broad, peachy fruit and the chalky, toasty, mineral palate.
2018 Herdade do Rocim Clay Aged Branco (Alentejo)
This blend of Verdelho, Alvarinho, and Viosinho sees six months of aging in clay after fermentation in both stainless steel and small amphorae. White peach, lemon peel, white flowers, toast, brioche, apricots, all on top of a mineral and creamy mouthfeel… this is at times geeky, serious, and downright tasty.
2018 Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Branco (Alentejo)
A single vineyard white, from Anton Vaz vines up to 75 years old, this is powerful, concentrated stuff aged in large, older barrels. Stone fruits, citrus, jasmine, peaches, and toast… but don’t let the big bones fool you, it’s also got plenty of liveliness to counterbalance its softer edges.
2018 Herdade do Rocim “Fresh from Amphora” Tinto (Alentejo)
A joint venture with Nieport, packaged in 1L bottles, crafted with low amounts of sulfites, and specifically made to be lower in abv (11.5%$!), this is the first vintage of this Trincadeira and Moreto blend. Fresh, peppery, fun, and full of earthy red berry goodness, Hipster somms everywhere can rejoice (get your BTG orders in now, folks!).
2018 Herdade do Rocim Mariana (Vinho Regional Alentejano)
This blend of several Portuguese red grapes delivers serious bang for the buck. A bit of wood and drier, riper red and blue fruit flavors signal a wine meant for the crowds, but there’s more balance, texture, freshness, and depth (not to mention excellent tannin management) than you’d otherwise expect to find in a wine at this price point.
2018 Herdade do Rocim Indigena Tinto (Alentejo)
100% organic Alicante Bouschet, this deep garnet delight is chock full of sweet tobacco and ripe plum action, black cherry flavors, and a chewy mouthfeel that delivers purity and freshness. A bit of an attempt at a natural wine, though Ribeiro delivered several caveats when pouring it. “There’s so many bad wines in the Natural wine movement,” he lamented. “If it was God’s will, it would be vinegar.” Thankfully, Rocim manages to stave off the gods’ wrath (at least for now).
2017 Herdade do Rocim Clay Aged Tinto (Alentejo)
Foot-trodden Alicante Bouschet and Trincadeira make up this red, which spends sixteen months in clay. While not complex, it’s long AF, with pure, chewy, and fresh cherry flavors and notes of minerals and spices. Textural enough for the nerds, tasty enough for the masses.
2017 Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Reserva (Vinho Regional Alentejano)
Another foot-trodden Alicante Bouschet and Trincadeira mashup, this time from a 75-year-old vineyard, and aged in large oak vats. This might be Rocim’s most modernly appointed red, and it’s downright sultry, with ripe black cherry fruit flavors, sweet tobacco aromas, and ample spiciness. While powerful, and sleek, it still manages to maintain a sense of character and playful deviousness.