When I’m looking out for new wines for my customers, there are a few things I keep in mind;
1) Most importantly, do I like it and do I think you will too?
2) Does it taste as good or better than it costs?
3) Why might it be of interest to you?
It might be that it’s from a lesser known region, difficult to otherwise find or the sort of bottle that might otherwise be overlooked. It might be a brilliant example of an easily available type of wine or type of wine that I’ve fallen in love with on my travels, but the good ones are hidden amongst the mass of mediocrity. Sometimes the interest might be as simple as I get a little bit of a crush on the winemaker…find me someone who doesn’t love a good story about a great wine, told in the lilting accent by the person that made it!
In the case of the wines of Portugal’s Alvaro Castro (of Quinta da Pellada/ Quinta de Saes), all 3 of my requirements have been well and truly ticked. I will admit that I have never been to Portugal or that I had even heard of some of the indigenous grape varieties that are used to make the wines, especially the white grapes. I know very little about Portuguese cuisine and the little knowledge I have with regards to Portuguese wine, up until now, has been based upon the more famous fortified wines of the Douro, so these from Dao intrigued me greatly. What I did find out immediately however, was that these wines TASTED exceptionally delicious and I was blown away by the elegance of the wines. I was also quick and a little bit chuffed to learn that here I’ve found some wines made by one of Portugal’s most reknowned (and Dao’s best) wine maker Alvaro Castro and his daughter, Maria.
When I met winemaker Maria, who has also worked closely with Port’s famous Dirk van de Niepoort, she was presenting a whole array of Castro’s wines and her passion for each and every wine was infectious. For the red, I was expecting a very Douro typical big blockbusting wine, yet these from the Dao are not. I found the red Alvaro Castro Dao Tinto 2011, a blend of Touriga-Nacional, Tinto Roriz and Alfrocheiro, to be much lighter in style than I was expecting; bright, fresh and fabulous with appetising blackberry fruitiness, finesse and savoury structure; more along the lines of a Pinot Noir than a Douro red. The white Alvaro Castro Dao Branco 2013 is blended from yet more indigenous varieties, Encruzado, Cerceal and Bical, which create a delightful fresh and floral wine with crisp citrus and mineral notes. Both of these wines (don’t get me on to the fabulous flagship Quinta da Pellada wines, which are just out of this world) have a certain exuberance , just like their makers. If you’ve not tried Portuguese or Dao wines before, or you like a lighter and elegant style of wine, I urge you to give these a go and what an incredible couple of bottles to start with!
The techy bit: Dao wines have suffered from a poor reputation in the past, but as Portuguese legislation has lifted and winemaking techniques and expertise are improved, the region is now producing some very fine wines, being given its DOC in 1990. As with Portuguese wines generally, grape varieties are indigenous, Encruzado being the major white grape (see it blended here with neighbouring region,Bairrada’s, grape variety Bical) and a mixture of port grape Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Jaen and Alfrocheiro dominate the red grapes. Dao, named after the river that runs through it, lies on a granite plateau and is protected from the damp of the Atlantic and the heat of the inland, by mountain ranges running to the west and south east. The cooler climate (to the Douro), and winemaking skill of Maria and Alvaro make for fresher, finer and elegant wines than you’d traditionally expect of a Portuguese table wine.
Sources and links:
http://www.wineanorak.com/dao1_overview.htm Jamie Goode
World Atlas of Wine (7th Edition) Johnson and Robinson