Slow Dão with wines from Portugal’s answer to Burgundy

Portugal’s finest wine region is worth exploring

 

For some Dão is Portugal’s finest wine region, yet few wine drinkers have a clear picture of what the wines are like. It is often mentioned as Portugal’s answer to Burgundy. There are certain similarities; both produce lighter wines with good acidity, low in tannin, and sometimes low in alcohol too. Both wines seduce gently with perfume, finesse and elegance rather than power. But whereas Pinot Noir often tastes sweet (although it is bone dry) to me Dão is more savoury and often spicy with damson fruits – more like a Syrah from the Northern Rhône if you want a comparison.

Either way, Dão certainly deserves much more of our attention. Not only does it offer some great red wines at reasonably prices, it also produces some excellent dry white wines too. Both red and white wines (it is 80 per cent red) are made from Portuguese grape varieties.

Dão is a largish region in central northern Portugal. Circled by mountains, and therefore protected from both the Atlantic rains and the blasting heat of the interior, it has relatively dry, warm summers, perfect for the slow ripening of grapes. The granitic soils give good acidity, and the altitude (200-600m) keeps things cool too.

Winemaking skills

For many years, the region, although well-known, was held back by a bizarre law that obliged growers to sell their grapes to the local co-op, which often lacked the necessary winemaking skills. The result was large quantities of very dull tannic wines. But in recent years, there has been a blossoming of local talent, as well as an influx of other Portuguese winemakers. Not only are the wines far better, they are very reasonably priced too.

Two red grapes are worth special mention. This is the home of touriga macional, one of Portugal’s greatest grape varieties. You will also come across jaen, known as mencía in Galicia, a variety with huge potential. Then there is tinta roriz (Tempranillo) and alfrocheiro. For white wines, there is encruzado, possibly Portugal’s greatest white variety. It all adds up to an area that offers real excitement. At the less expensive end, the wines can be fabulously perfumed and lightly fruity. If you like less heavy wines, there are some real bargains, but the more expensive wines are great value too.

There is a limited range on offer in our shops, but it includes some great wines. I have already featured Touriga Nacional Rui Reguinga 2013 (€24.50, Terroirs,  Donnybrook) and Jardim da Estrela 2014, an amazing €13 from Quintessential Wines. Both are well worth trying, as are the excellent FP wines from Filipa Pato in next-door Bairrada. If you travel to Portugal on holiday, I suspect there might be greater availability over there. jwilson@irishtimes.com

Four to try

Paço dos Cunhas de Santar Nature 2012 (organic), Dão
14%
€16.95

Wonderful smooth elegant dark fruits with light tannins on the finish.
Stockists: McHugh’s; Martins; Baggot St Wines; Corkscrew; Donnybrook Fair; Morton’s Galway; Sweeney’s.

Dão Rótulo 2015, Niepoort, Portugal
12.5%
€16.95
Delicious refreshing light red with a savoury edge to the clean damson fruits.
Stockists: Grapevine; Morton’s Ranelagh; Drinkstore; Redmonds; Baggot St Wines; Martins.

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2015
13%
€29.99

Softly spicy with vibrant citrus and pear fruits. Engaging and sophisticated wine.
Stockists: Baggot St. Wines; Redmonds; Corkscrew.

Ribeiro Santos 2014 Dão
13.5%
€14.95
Harmonious pure damson and dark cherry fruits. Perfect with duck breast or pork. Excellent value.
Stockists: Fresh Outlets, La Touche, The Coachouse; Power & Co; D Six; Nectar; McGuinness Wines; Green Man Wines, Corkscrew.

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