Portugal is an amazing country for wine. However, very few people, let alone experts, understand the country’s grape production. Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares his knowledge of the Dão region, some history behind it, and why it provides some of the best of Portuguese wine.
The wines of Port, Vinho Verde and Madeira make up most people’s interest and knowledge of Portugal wine, and why not? Port is arguably the greatest and most popular fortified wine in the world. Another remarkable fortified Portugal wine is called Madeira, which the Declaration of Independence was toasted to. And lastly, the refreshing, quaffing white wine of Vinho Verde is one of the best of Portuguese wine. It is also a delight to drink in the summer time. So, why do people not understand or appreciate the rest of Portuguese wine? Knowledge and unusual grape varieties would be the answer.
Most people would try a Chardonnay from a country they have not tasted before. Or they may try Pinot Noir from a country not noted for it, but the indigenous grape varieties of Portugal do not roll off of the tongue. As matter a fact, they trip and stumble. Widespread knowledge of the regions and its various appellations simply does not exist, and explaining them can be tricky at best. I suggest taking one tiny wine step to Portugal at a time. Also, learn a little bit about the wines and region of Dão.
The Dão region is in north central Portugal and takes its name from the river that runs through it. Its grape production heritage dates back to the Roman Empire, and it produces more red wine than white. The region is hilly, hot and dry with most grapes in granitic soil at higher elevations. This allows for a longer growing season. Where there are not vineyards, there are copious pine forests and small villages. The vast majority of the wineries are very small producers, owning no more than two acres.
The Best of Portuguese wine from Dão – Quinta das Maias winery
Dão Vinho Branco Quinta das Maias 2010 (Dão, Portugal) – This wine’s color is pale yellow with green highlights. Its flavors include ripe yellow apples, citrus, white flowers and wet stone minerals. Honeydew melon also envelope with an amazing rich and silky texture, almost like a great value Cotes Du Rhone Blanc. Made from 50 percent Malvasia Fina grapes; 30 precent Encruzado; 15 percent Verdelho and 5 percent Cercial. Try the Dão Vinho Branco Quinta das Maias 2010 as an aperitif. Or try it with sea scallops seared and served with beurre blanc sauce. It also goes well with a simple roasted chicken rubbed with lemon.
Dão Vinho Tinto Quinta das Maias 2007 (Dão,Portugal) – This wine’s color is medium red with purple highlights. Its flavors include red cherry, raspberries, fresh tilled soil, slight cigar box and light oak. It is a rustic blend of two grapes – 20 percent Touriga Nacional and 80 percent of Jaen. Jaen is known in Spain as Mencia. The Dão Vinho Tinto Quinta das Maias 2007 pairs well with tournedos of beef sautéed with Vidalia onions and deglazed with the Dão wine. The Dão wine also reduces and finishes well with Maytag bleu cheese. The addition of the Dão wine to the sauce created a nice bridge with the wine.
Quinta das Maias was purchased in 1997 by Luis Lourenco. Lourenco also manages the estate of 86 acres including vines as old as 30 years. The winery makes 10,000 cases of wine annually, and the original estate dates back to 1897. Quinta das Maias gets its name from the beautiful yellow Maias flowers that surround the estate. Depicted on the label of the wine bottle, they are also called Scotch Broom in English.
The Best of Portuguese wine – Port, Madeira and Vinho Verde
In case you want to try the more popular wines of Portugal, here are recommendations for Port, Madeira and Vinho Verde:
Vinho Verde Gazela Non Vintage (Minho, Portugal) – This Vinho Verde is very pale yellow in color. It is also effervescent, vivacious and lively with the flavors of lemon, lime zest and apple. It is dry, light and crisp and perfect as an aperitif or with light appetizers.
Fonseca 10-Year Tawny Porto (Porto, Portugal) – Matured in cask for a minimum of 10 years, this Port is medium-bodied and sweet. It has the flavors of roasted nuts, caramelized sugar, blackberries and oak. Try it with Stilton and walnuts.
Cossart Gordon 10-Year Bual Madeira (Madeira, Portugal) – A luscious texture and a warm tangy finish mark this Madeira. It is also medium rich with a full body, and medium sweet with the flavors of baked fruit, nuts and smoke. Try it with roasted or caramelized nuts and dried fruits.