With the wines of Herdade do Rocim and his own project Bojador, as well as a string of collaborations, Pedro Ribeiro is making some of Portugal’s most exciting wines, with a special emphasis on wines from clay. Jamie Goode tastes the line up.
Pedro Ribeiro is the co-owner and winemaker at Herdade do Rocim, in Portugal’s Alentejo region. It’s based in Vidiguera in the south of the region, and was started by the grandfather of Caterina Viera, Pedro’s wife. It’s a sizeable project, making some 1.2 million bottles a year, but one of the reasons it has been attracting attention is because it is at the forefront of the resurgence of interest in talhas, the large terracotta amphorae that are part of the historical winemaking practice in this part of the Alentejo.
Rocim host the annual amphora wine day, held on the weekend closest to the feast of Saint Martin in the second week of November, which is the traditional day when the talhas are tapped (a tap is put in and wine is drawn off from the bottom). This brings together producers working with amphorae from around Portugal.
The soils here are decomposed granite and some schist. Vidiguera is in the south of the Alentejo but has a reputation for making fresher wines because of its exposure to the winds from the Atlantic which travel across the flat Alentejo and then stop here in the hills. This brings cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels, especially during harvest.
This is a 150 hectare estate with 70 ha of vines, and another 40 ha a couple of kilometres away. ‘When I started to work here, everyone talked about the freshness of Vidiguera, and I said OK,’ says Pedro. ‘But when I started to make wines here, I really felt a big difference from the rest of the region.’
They have irrigation, but don’t use it very much. And when they do, it is not so much for hydric stress but rather to counter heat waves, bringing the canopy temperature down. If it hits 45 C, they will turn the irrigation on. The leaves begin to transpire, and this cools them down, and they don’t die.
They are now organic across the whole estate. ‘We started in 2014, with the first part of the vineyards,’ says Pedro. ‘In the beginning it was really difficult for us: in the first two years we had a big loss of protection. But then the plants started to balance themselves.’ They have slightly reduced yields, but not too much. The growth in the rows is just what grows naturally. For vine nutrition, they haven’t had to add much. In the vine row itself weed management is either mechanical or thermic (using heat to kill weeds). ‘It’s a lot of work,’ says Pedro.
They are part of the Sustainability Program of the Alentejo. They were the ninth producer to get this certification, and now there are 14.
What are Pedro’s stylistic directions? ‘I really have a lot of influences,’ he says. ‘I worked in Australia (Tintara in 2003/4), I worked in the USA (Cakebread). My favourite wines for sure are not from these regions, but it was important to experience for me as a winemaker. Now I like wines from the Jura and Burgundy, but I don’t restrain myself to this style.’
I suggest that he likes wines that are picked early to retain freshness. ‘I think that’s the key,’ he says. If you live in a warm country like ours (they say Alentejo is warm, but all Portugal is warm) if we pick early we can achieve very interesting things. Of course sometimes I pick later for the big boys (I have some Napa Valley style wines). I don’t try to follow anything.’
The wines I tasted here were a mix of Rocim’s portfolio, plus Bojador (Pedro’s own project) and a series of collaborations that he’s become involved with. In addition, there are the wines that Rocim makes from vineyards it owns in the Douro and Dão wine regions.
Pedro became quite famous (infamous, in some circles) for making a wine called Jupiter. In 2015 Rocim bought a small vineyard from a lady called Micaela. It was just 0.36 hectares, and the vines were 70 years old. When they bought it they then forgot it. In 2015 the farm keeper says what shall we do with these grapes? Pedro filled some amphoras, and one of these made a very special wine that was called Jupiter. 800 bottles were made and Pedro priced them at €1000, which created quite a stir. ‘It was very controversial in Portugal,’ says Pedro. Pedro Garcias who writes for Publico wrote about this wine for three weeks in a row! But all 800 bottles sold in 3 weeks. Jupiter bought him 3 vineyards in Dao!
Herdade do Rocim Brut Nature Rosé 2019 Alentejo
Looks like a Blanc de Noirs. 95% Touriga Nacional and 5% Arinto aged 18 months on lees. Livey, primary and intense with vivid citrus fruit and some cherry notes. Lively and quite lively with some pithiness, a hint of wax, and great acidity. Such vivid fruit here, with a tapering lemony finish. 90/100
Herdade do Rocim Fresh from Amphora Blanco NatCool 2021 Alentejo
Field blend from old vineyards, picked very early, sometimes even in July. The wine is fermented without skins in the amphora. After fermentation it leaves the amphora. Vivid, lively and intense with high acidity and bright citrus and pear fruit, with some appley notes on the finish. This is really crisp with some grapefruit notes. Lovely. 93/100
Herdade do Rocim Amphora Branco 2021 Alentejo
On skins for 4-5 months, but just around 40% of the skins. From old vineyards. Appley, waxy nose with some appealing citrus fruit. Bracing and linear on the palate with dense, pure, lively lime and lemon fruit, with a bit of structure and a sharp acidity, although it integrates well. So juicy and vital, with a crisp, crystalline finish. 93/100
Bojador Vinho de Talha Branco 2021 Alentejo
60% of skins in amphora, where it stays for 6 months. From two vineyards in Vidiguera (Pedro also has two vineyards in Portalegre). Old vines. Peachy richness here to the bright pear and citrus fruit, but with a bit of grip, a touch of aniseed, and nice acidity. Vital, bright and with lovely intensity: this is a really expressive wine. Purity and high acid keep it very focused. 94/100
Santiago na Ânfora do Rocim Alvarinho 2021 Vinho Verde
A collaboration wine. Fermented without skins in Italian amphora, then aged six months in that. Beautifully expressive with some lovely apricot and pear aromas, and a pure, mineral, linear palate of lemon, mandarin and some exotic apricot notes. Kept honest by high acidity, which dominates on the finish. A remarkable linear wine with amazing precision, finishing a little saline. 95/100
Oceanico Arinto dos Açores Salvaged by Rocim 2021 Pico, Azores
12.5% alcohol. Fermented and aged in an oak vat for six months. Winemaking done at the local cooperative. First vintage was 2021. Fresh and lively with some richer melon and lemon notes, but also a faint hint of cabbage and some saline, mineral citrus notes on the finish. Nice weight of fruit here with some pithiness on the finish. Lovely acidity. 92/100
Bela Luz Branco 2021 Douro, Portugal
50% in small oak, 50% small amphorae. It’s an old vineyard in Ervadosa, Cima Corgo. Waxy, nutty and slightly stony on the nose, with some waxy detail to the citrus fruit. The palate is lively and focused with some wax and pear character, and an appealing stony mineral edge, and a touch of cedar spice. Very Douro in style, and could age really nicely. There’s some intensity here. 93/100
Olho de Mocho Single Vineyard Branco 2021 Alentejo
12.5% alcohol. Mainly Antao Vaz, barrel fermented and aged. Bright, crystalline and expressive with lots of fruit intensity. There’s a precision to the citrus fruit here, as well as a bit of structure, with some woody, spicy hints. Real intensity and focus. Has good acidity, and a taut personality, and will benefit from some time in bottle. 93/100
O Estrangeiro Branco 2020 Dão
In 2019 they bought three small vineyards in Dão. Fermented and aged in old barrels (500 litres). Full yellow color. Lovely flavours of sweet yellow plums and lime, with a hint of toast and some creamy notes, but the core remains the bold, slightly pithy citrus and stone fruit, with some mineral undertones. Very pure and focused with high acidity. Balances richness and focus. 94/100
Rocim x Barbeito A Meias 2020 Verdelho Na Ânfora DOP Madeirense
11% alcohol. This is a collaboration between Ricardo Diogo and Pedro Ribeiro. Made with grapes from the north of the island, this spends a year in amphora. Wonderful aromatics with a hint of marmalade as well as ripe pear and lemon fruit. So fresh and expressive. The palate is tangy, fresh and vivid with keen acidity but also lovely ripe citrus fruit: there’s a generosity to the fruit which balances perfectly the acid. This is crystalline and mineral, with a slight saltiness here. So lovely: if only more than 600 bottles were made. 96/100
Ralhete 2020 Portugal
10.5% alcohol. 90% white grapes, 10% red grapes, old vineyard: a collaboration with Pedro Martin. Fermented in amphora with skins. Pink/orange colour. Has a slight honeyed, syrupy edge to the nose. The palate is stony and nutty with some nice cherry and pear fruit, and citrus and apple too. Quite stony and savoury, but lots of interest here. 91/100
Bruno Aleixo Clarete Baga 2021 Barraida
12% alcohol. Bottled in a one-litre bottle, this is made from Baga, and it’s a collaboration with Quinta Lagoa Velha. Foot trodden then fermented for three days, then finishes off the skins. Pale red with a hint of orange. Supple, fresh and expressive with some strawberry fruit and a touch of red cherry, as well as good acidity. Very fresh and expressive with a touch of rose petal and spice. There’s great acidity with some juiciness and a lovely red cherry finish. Really delicate and expressive, with just enough structure. 94/100
Herdade do Rocim Fresh From Amphora 2021 Alentejo
Picked early in August. Fermented on skins, aged for two weeks in amphora, then it leaves. Very bright and expressive with lovely strawberry and red cherry fruit, and nice texture. Notes of tea leaves and dried herbs, with some silkiness to the texture, but also a bit of structure. Has a nice wax and sour cherry finish, with hints of stoniness. Beautiful. 93/100
Herdade do Rocim Amphora Tinto 2021 Alentejo
Six months on skins. Traditional regional grapes. Sweetly aromatic with spicy cherry and berry fruits, showing some floral cherry fruit. Very expressive and fine. The palate shows ripe cherry and plum fruit with a sour cherry twist and nice stony, grainy structure and detail. Fresh and fleshy. Has great drinkability. 93/100
Bojador Vinho de Talha Amphora 2021 Alentejo
12.5% alcohol. Portalegre. Brooding, aromatic sweet cherry and plum fruit on the nose with some earth and spice notes. The palate is rich and fruity with a slight seaweed edge to the bold cherry and raspberry fruit. Some saltiness and some grip, with good acidity. Stone and clay, with some grip. 94/100
Herdade do Rocim Clay Aged Tinto 2019 Alentejo
This is 50% whole bunch, fermented in lagar then aged in small 160 litre clay pots from Bordeaux. They have measured dissolved oxygen in these, and the wine sees just a little more than a new barrel would give it. Ripe, fresh and pure. Gravelly with some sweet blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Ripe and supple with some generosity and sleek, modern black fruits. 94/100
Vale de Mata Reserva Manuel Viura 2019 Lisboa
14% alcohol. Vivid, fresh and sleek, this special cuvée shows vivid, fresh, sleek ripe fruit: cherries and berries with some creamy oak adding depth. Supple, fresh and appealing with nice texture. Polished and modern, but still has freshness and also some potential for development. 94/100
O Estrangeiro Tinto 2020 Dão
14% alcohol. Field blend, but mainly Alfrocheiro and Baga, fermented in concrete tank then aged in old barrels. Lovely floral aromatics here with sweet cherries and plums. Alluring. The palate is supple and elegant with amazing texture: there’s some depth here but also a bit of structure, and good acidity. Hints of liqourice and tar, and a really fine spicy finish. Really expressive, combining ripe fruit with structure and balance. 94/100
Bela Luz Tinto 2021 Douro
There’s a ripeness to the aromatic cherry and berry fruits nose, with floral cherries and plums, as well as some blackcurrant. The palate is vivid and firm with some savoury spiciness, a touch of cedar, and focused blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Lovely density here with some savoury focus, and good structure and acidity. Finishes savoury. 93/100
Herdade do Rocim Crónica #328 Reserva 2019 Alentejo
15% alcohol. A tribute to Caterina’s father, first edition was 2015. He wrote 327 newspaper columns in his life, so this is 328. Traditional Alentejo wines made from vineyards he planted in 2001. Co-fermented and foot trodden in lagar, aged two years in barrel. Sweetly aromatic with wax and leather as well as sweet cherry and berry fruits on the nose. Has some tar and spice, too. The palate is supple, fresh and spicy with dense blackberry and cherry fruit, some spice, and a bit of warmth. Has lovely balance with the fruit and savoury spiciness. Despite the alcohol, this is impressively balanced. 93/100
Herdade do Rocim Vinha da Micaela 2018 Alentejo
In 2015 they bought a small vineyard from a lady called Micaela. 0.36 hectares, 70 years old. This was the source of the Jupiter wine that sold for €1000 a bottle. Then in 2018 they had another wine that Pedro thought deserved to be bottled separately. This wine was fermented in amphora, aged six months there, and then two years in old barrels. The idea was to capture the old-style Alentejo in both the wine and also the packaging. This sells for €186. Brooding, savoury, gravelly nose with sweet black cherry fruit. The palate is dense and structured with notes of clay and earth, with some dense plum, earth, spice and some fine cherry and berry fruits. Combines fruitiness and savouriness to good effect with concentration and structure. Finishes dry and grippy. 94/100
Bela Luz Vintage Port 2020 Douro
Inspired by Rocim, directed by Niepoort. It was a very warm year, so they made a vintage Port at Niepoort. Vivid and sweetly aromatic, this feels fresh. Concentrated and intense with lovely tannins: firm, grippy and vivid with real intensity. I love the black cherry and blackberry fruit intensity. This is very fine. 96/100
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