I first read about talhas (Portuguese clay fermentation vessels) in a World of Fine Wine article written by Paul White back in 2015. On reading it again a few years ago, I decided I’d like to visit the Alentejo myself, and drink Talha wine in situ, but I could find very little information about how I might organise such a trip. What I needed was this book – a few years before it had actually been written. Paul White’s book, Talha Tales, is available from Amazon in Hardcover (£28.13), Paperback (£20.00) and Kindle edition (£9.99). I was sent the Kindle copy to review and, while very grateful for the opportunity, my first comment would be that if you want to buy this book I suggest you spend a bit extra and get the paperback. As with many books of this type, you quite often want to flick backwards and forwards between pages, and it’s not so easy in Kindle.
And the content? For an overview, I couldn’t put it better than Paul himself:
There are three main sections. The first is full of background information and esoteric geeky wine and cultural stuff I love as a former historian. The second part explores individual producers and their wine in relative detail, to guide readers to the wines they may want to taste or wineries they may want to visit. The third part is more oriented towards the wine tourist. What to eat, where to stay and what to do beyond drinking.
Even as someone who was not a former historian, I think it was the background with “esoteric geeky wine and cultural stuff” I enjoyed most. I loved to hear the story of how the tradition of making wine in talha was saved from the brink of extinction, and is now starting to thrive again – I feel happier and more at home in a world where there is a place for maintaining historical traditions and diversity.
Also, as someone a lot more familiar with Georgian qvevri wine, I found the comparisons of talha and qvevri winemaking fascinating. Despite the historical and geographical points of difference, they have a lot in common. In terms of more recent developments, with both talha and qvevri there is increasing experimentation with the addition of wood ageing, and also of course bottling to allow broader distribution in cities and abroad, when historically the wine was more likely to go straight from clay vessel to the table.
Those were some of the geeky highlights for me (oh, also the bits on how the inside of talha are coated), but there is plenty more to get your teeth into. Paul’s enthusiasm and informal style carried me along through the story, and there is much I’d like to return to when I have more time.
The rest of the book, I must admit I read less avidly. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it difficult to concentrate on reading about producers and lists of wines I know little about. Were I to revive my plans to visit the Alentejo though, perhaps inspired by the 3rd section of the book (actually written by another author, Jenny Mortimer) they would suddenly become a lot more relevant.
The long and short of it is that if you are like me: fascinated by, or even just curious about, ancient winemaking methods and how they persist into modern times, or if you have a specific interest in talha wines, you really need this book. You should also be keeping in touch with Paul on his website Wine Disclosures (and check the archives of my blog). If on the other hand you are not so fascinated…. well, maybe you should be 🙂