By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 2 February 2019
I have been so impressed with the quality of Portuguese wines – and with one region in particular, Dao - a historic region offering a winning combination of value for money and lush approachable wine styles.
The remote Dao region lies on a wild granite plateau in central Portugal producing some of the freshest most aromatic wines in the country. Stylistically Dao is the most Burgundian region in Portugal with full bodied citric whites and softly tannic reds, compared to neighbour Douro to the north which majors on powerful structured reds similar to Bordeaux.
When I visited Dao recently, what struck me most was its isolation and uniquely beautiful surroundings. Locked in on three sides by high granite mountains Serra da Estrela, Serra do Caramulo and Serra da Nave, it has a temperate climate well-sheltered from the Atlantic. With warm dry summers reaching 35 degrees C, grapes ripen well and cool misty nights dipping down to 15 degrees C this preserves grape acidity.
The other thing I noticed was the beautiful sweet-scented pine trees – which add unique herby notes to Dao’s earthy reds. Sadly some forests were affected by bad fires in the hot summer of 2017 which scorched trees and vineyards; two producers I spoke to lost 15 hectares each and in 2018 there were more setbacks with yields low due to hail.
Like many Portuguese regions, both white and red Dao are blends made from native Portuguese grapes. The leading varieties are Encruzado for white and Touriga Nacional for red, alongside Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Alfrocheiro; this is where the famous Touriga Nacional originated from. Thanks to these grapes, Dao has potential to be Portugal’s top quality region.
It has not always been like this. Not long ago Dao was known for over-oxidised dull whites and dusty dried-out reds. It is still one of Portugal’s most backward region. Up until the late 1970’s, due to a local statute all grapes were sent to co-operatives. In 1979 the EU disallowed this monopoly and that is when modern Dao began to emerge.
Luis and Luisa Lourenco of Quinta dos Roques, one of the bigger producers here, are typical examples of how historic quintas have converted to focus on quality wine.
“My parents were Maths teachers and used to sell grapes, apples and hazelnuts from the farm to the local co-operative”, says son Manuel Lourenco (pictured right). “Today they own two wine estates Roques and Maias producing 200,000 bottles”, he says.
Interestingly the Lourenco still choose not to actually live in Dao, but commute regularly from Sintra near Lisbon to tend their farm, as Dao is still considered a remote rural place to live.
Another challenger to the title of Dao’s top winemaker is Alvaro Castro of
Quinta da Pellada. He links traditional and modern techniques, producing a wide array of beautifully elegant stylish wines.
The prize for Dao’s most dynamic modern winery goes to Dao Sul, based at the old C17 estate, Quinta de Cabriz, where winemaker Carlos Moura has since 1989 produced fruit-forward well priced Dao - but they also own quintas in Douro, Estremadura and Alentejo.
Quinta dos Carvalhais is another large Dao estate with 100 hectares, owned by Sogrape giants. Their focus is not to compete with co-operatives, but produce reserve wines. Winemaker Beatriz Almeida says she has witnessed a revolution here in Dao.
“When I started 80% of grapes were non-authorised, now 80% are classic grapes like Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. We are seeing such an uplift in quality here in Dao – and it is only going to get better”, she says.
QUINTA DAS MAIAS BRANCO 2017 (13%)
£9.99-£10.95 Drinkmonger; Bottle Apostle
Unoaked blend of mainly floral aromatic Malvasia Fina with fuller bodied richer Encruzado from high 600m vineyards on Serra de Estrela. Fresh delicate with apple and pearskin notes.
QUINTA DA GARRIDA ENCRUZADO 2016 (13.5%)
£9.50 St Andrews Wine
Elegant refined citric with apple notes. Toasty undertones from barrel fermentation and a minerally undertone. Ideal served with grilled fish.
QUINTA DOS ROQUES ENCRUZADO 2016 (13.5%)
£18.95 Luvians; Oxford Wine; Buon Vino
Very ripe, soft rounded, oak fermented, this creamy delicious citric fruited single varietal is a real match for serious white Burgundy. Legendary white from the Lourencos.
QUINTA DO RIBEIRO SANTO 2016 Carlos Lucas (13.5%)
£7.95 The Wine Society
Unoaked red with herb and cherry fruit aromas, initially with a soft velvety texture finishing with gripping tannins. Made by Magnum Vinhos in Carregal do Sal, set up by Carlos Lucas and others who met at Dao Sul winery.
AGENDA TINTO 2016 Boas Quintas (13%) ***STAR VALUE***
£7 Majestic Wine
Typical example of modern polished lush Dao, with the same kind of dark luscious fruit you find in port. It also reminded me of Rhone Syrah. Boas Quintas make wine across Portugal, but are based in Dao.
CASA DE MOURAZ TINTO 2013 (13.5%)
£14.50 Luvians; Old Bridge Wine; Buon Vino
Great value Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Tinta Roriz blend; all grapes are fermented together with 20% matured in oak. Savoury earthy notes with soft approachable tannins.
DAO TINTO 2015 Quinta da Pellada (13%)
£16 Forest Wines; AG Wines
Alvaro Castro crafts this field blend of Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz with its deep dark cherries, meaty textural palate and plummy notes.
ALFROCHEIRO 20015 Quinta das Carvalhais (14%)
£21.99 Fine Wine Musselburgh
Unusual Dao from 100% Alfrocheiro Preta, little known dark-skinned grape with deep colour, floral aromas, raspberry fruits and herby earthiness. Made by Sogrape-owned Carvalhais in Dao’s Mangualde commune.
TOURIGA NACIONAL 2015 Quinta dos Roques (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£32.50 Luvians; Farnham Wine Cellar; Bottle Apostle
One of Dao’s first 100% Touriga Nacional varietals. A serious effort with an attractive combination of aromatic sweet fruits, concentration and elegance. From grapes from Roques’ best vineyards. Drink now or keep 10 years.
Join Rose’s Portugal: Douro v Dao wine tasting at Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh Thursday 21 February £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com