Grapevine: Now for the Dao
Portugal is synonymous with fortified wine – both Port and Madeira are international benchmarks for their style.
With such strong brands, they can leave little room for other regions and wine styles to garner the attention they deserve internationally. Vinho Verde managed to carve out a niche for
whites and to a lesser extent, the Douro for full-bodied reds sitting in the shadows of Port. The country has plenty more to offer, and one region that has seen plenty of investment in
improving quality in the vineyard and the winery is the Dao.
The Dao sits in the centre of Portugal just south of the Douro Valley, surrounded by mountains that form some of the strongest factors influencing the region. To the west is the Atlantic Ocean for which the mountains protect the region from the incoming weather, and likewise to the east for continental weather patterns. The resultant conditions are ideal for grape growing – ample and sufficient rainfall over the winter months followed by warm, dry summers to ensure sufficient ripeness leading up to the harvest, while the higher altitude at which the best sites are located with their granitic soils help to retain acidity in the grapes and resultant wines.
It has been a long while coming for wines of high calibre to emerge. For much of the late 20th century,growers in the Dao were forced to sell their grapes to the local co-operatives to be processed and made into wine. Rewarding quantity somewhat more than quality meant that many wines were less than inspiring. As we moved through the late ‘80s and ‘90s, the rules were progressively relaxed, allowing growers to begin taking their fruit back and work on producing wines themselves, this was supported by a wave of investment in equipment and technical know-how helping to
produce wines that are consistently free of flaws or faults.
While varieties such as Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) and Touriga Nacional may be familiar, other natives in the region such as Jaen or Alfrocheiro will still be well under the radar for most. The good thing is that the wines of the region are almost always blends, and all the better for it as many of the varieties can lack vital characteristics to justify bottling as single variety wines.
Casa de Passarella ($30) was established long before the Dao was even recognised as a wine region in 1908. New ownership since 2007 has helped to reinvigorate the property while maintaining traditional practices such as the use of large concrete vats for fermentation and large, old oak for ageing. You could certainly try to pick apart the wine and look for the structure of the Touriga Nacional with its darker fruits and herbal notes, the pretty florals and bright red fruits of Jaen, the silky ripe tannins of alfrocheiro and the chocolatey edge of Tempranillo. But that’s only if you want to pick it apart, because the sum of the parts is brilliantly cohesive – supple, seamless and beautifully balanced.