No Boundaries: Herdade de Rocim Winery in Alentejo is Shaking Things Up

Pedro Ribeiro, partner and winemaker, thinks it is high time that Portuguese winemakers go beyond “value-priced” wines. That’s a provocative statement (especially to someone like me who coined the word, “affordalicious”).

Everyone knows two things about Portuguese wines:

  1. They are almost always blends, using grapes that most non-Portuguese people can barely pronounce.
  2. They almost always over-deliver for the price. Most Portuguese wines hover in the $7-$15 range in U.S. stores.

Ribeiro thinks many Portuguese winemakers are reluctant to make and sell wines that are expensive. “Great value,” says Ribeiro, “I think that’s the worst thing you can say about our wines. Good value doesn’t equate to great quality.”

What kicked off this conversation (over a sumptuous lunch at the winery) was his break-through Jupiter wine. Jupiter is the red wine that Ribeiro created with a partner in Bordeaux, who suggested creating a wine that would transcend anything Portugal had seen before. After tasting a red blend that had been in a Talha for four years, Ribeiro bottled it, named it Jupiter and priced it at 1000 euros per bottle. He released it in June 2021 and sold all 650 bottles in three weeks.

“I did this to inspire other producers to be proud and price their wines better,” he said.

Ribeiro is an innovator and it shows not just in Jupiter, but in his other wines from Herdade de Rocim – many of which are available in the U.S. (hurray!)

Originally from Porto, Ribeiro worked at Sandeman and other port houses, then in Australia’s McLaren Vale. He returned to Portugal in 2004 to Alentejo, where he joined Herdade de Grous until 2013. Eventually, he came to Rocim (named for the valley in which it sits).

The winery is most famous for its amphora wines (aka Talha wines), and Ribeiro started Amphora Day – it was Nov. 13 this year – where he invites international journalists and buyers to taste.

Ribeiro also ages wines in clay pots, made from clay found on the Rocim property. These wines have a distinct and pronounced terroir to them, evoking fruits, dried and fresh herbs and the earthiness of the clay. He started using the clay pots in 2014 and they have the same microoxygenation as an oak barrel.

With the Talhas, they lay a bed of stems on the bottom, pour in the pressed wine, and the skins sink to the bottom. They top it with olive oil as an air-tight seal.

After a quick tour of the winery, we sat for lunch with Ribeiro and our friends from Wines of Alentejo and tasted eight wines (all were amazing).

  1. Brut Nature Sparkling – It spent 16 months on the lees, made from Touriga National picked in late July. Absolutely delicious, fresh and zesty with acidity.
  2. Antao Vaz – crisp and refreshing white, big citrus, apple flavors
  3. Olho de Mocho Branca – the name means “eye of the owl” after a flower that grows in the vineyard. This Antao Vaz white comes from 60-year-old vines and I loved it.
  4. Fresh from the Amphora red (a “NatCool” wine) 2020 – like a basket of cherries and cranberries with a dusting of finely ground white pepper (12 euro)
  5. Rocim Clay Aged 2018 Red – Alicante Bouschet/Touriga Franca/Trincadeira blend, it is foot-trod and spends 16 months in a clay pot. I loved this and brought a bottle home. (38 euro)
  6. Olho de Mocho Red – an Alicante Bouschet/Trincadeira blend, foot-trod, this wine was sexy, expensive-tasting and fresh and savory. (25-30 euro)  
  7. Bela Luz – a field blend of 30+ grapes, foot-trod, 20% aged in clay pots, 80% in barrels, from a 95-year-old vineyard. (25 euro)
  8. Vina de Michaela – this is the “little sister” of Jupiter! Grapes from the same vineyard, but amphora and barrel aged for two years. He’ll sell this in a plain, inexpensive green bottle and price it at 185 euros. It was glorious, offering up generous red and black fruit, nice tannins and savory dried herbs.

If you go to Alentejo – and you should – you should visit Herdade de Rocim. You can book lunch as part of your visit, or a blend-your-own-wine experience. It’s located between Vidigueira and Cuba and is about an hour from the town of Évora. Huge thanks to Tiago Caravana and his team at Wines of Alentejo for an amazing experience! And thanks to Pedro Ribeiro for his time and sharing his beautiful wines.

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