Members of the Algarve Wine Society recently visited the Dão region which lies in the heart of at the heart of the Beira Alta region of Portugal. This part of the country is home to some of Portugal’s most distinctive and distinguished red wines, and rapidly improving whites. The Dão is surrounded by mountains, and the vineyards themselves are at altitudes ranging from 200–900 m and so the region is well protected from harsh weather and enjoys hot, dry weather for the majority of the grape growing season. Coupled with cool nights the altitude helps temper the heat and allows the grapes to retain their all-important natural acidity supported by the soil which is primarily granitic in origin. This creates perfect conditions for making fine, elegant wines.
Vanessa & José Perdigão
The Dão was first officially recognized as a Regiao Demarcda in 1908. In the 1940s it became mandatory to supply co-operatives in an effort to improve the production quality. This unfortunately stifled competition and in 1979 these rules were abolished when Portugal applied to join the EU. Even today the legacy of the co-operatives continues as there are still over 1000 producers with less than a hectare of land. But the larger independent producers were encouraged to start their own production and with that wine quality improved. Dão wines used to be fairly astringent and there are still wineries that favour that style but nowadays the wines are much more approachable and the Dão is sometimes likened to Portugal’s Burgundy. It’s not because of any physical similarity between the regions, but because of the style of wine. Like red Burgundy, good Dão doesn’t rely on power for its effect, but instead aims at subtlety and finesse, a cause helped by the natural acidity of the grapes. However, some wineries are aiming for more weight and some are experimenting with other grapes such as Syrah. Touriga Nacional is the leading red variety of the Dão but it is more commonly blended with varieties such as Tinta Roriz (the Tempranillo of Spain), Jaen and Alfrocheiro Preto. Dão also makes increasingly successful white wines. Encruzado is the leading white grape, often supported by Bical or Arinto, among others.
Dinner at Lemos
Members of the Algarve Wine Society enjoyed tastings at some of the top wineries of the region. All of them have featured in the top 50 in ViniPortugal’s ’50 Greatest Portuguese Wines’,some have scored very highly with Robert Parker’s system and Quinta das Marias’2011 Touriga Nacional was voted the best wine in Portugal for 2016. Quinta da Cruzeiro (Julia Kemper wines) and Quinta do Perdigão are already organic and others are set to follow. Aside from the wineries already mentioned we visited Casa de Passarella, Quinta dos Roques, Quinta da Falorca and Quinta de Lemos. These wineries produce relatively small amounts of high quality wine, the largest being 100,000 bottles and the smallest about 35,000 bottles. In contrast we ended our trip with a visit to Quinta de Cabriz whose annual production is over 3 million bottles; not the same quality but great value for money.
Steve at Qta Falorca with the winemaker
If you are thinking of a making a visit to the region Viseu is a good place to stay. We had memorable evening meals at Casa Insua, Portugal’s first Parador Hotel, and also at Quinta de Lemos which offers a gourmet style tasting menu. There are many good restaurants in Viseu, Nelas and Gouveia and a wine fair is held in early September each year at Nelas. There are many other historic and cultural attractions in the area and the Solar do Dao in Viseu gives an excellent introduction to the wine region.