On the edge of the village of Pinhanços, Quinta da Pellada is not easy to find, even when you have geographical coordinates and a GPS. Apparently the method of choice is to ask at the village pharmacy, which will provide aspirin for the headache of getting there, and will phone to inform the quinta of your arrival. Maria Castro collected us in the village square because we had not had the confidence to enter the premises to which the GPS took us, basically a rather old doorway into a courtyard off the main street without any sign of ownership. But through a somewhat rural courtyard is a winery to the left and a family house to the right. Quinta da Pellada has been in the family since the 16th century, but it was Alvaro Castro who brought it to its present eminence as a definitive influence on what Dão wines can achieve. Today he makes the wines together with his daughter Maria.
Quinta da Pellada has three vineyards, Pellada being used also for the name of the company, the others being Quinta de Saes and Oteiro. The vineyards are well out of town, accessed only by four wheel drive. At the center of the Pellada vineyard is the old house pictured on the quinta’s web site, which had been badly damaged, with the roof coming down, and has now been rebuilt. After a tour of the vineyards, we went to the winery and collected some wines from a storage area which takes the form of a long underground passage; at the other end of the passage, we emerged into the house. “My father trained as a civil engineer,” Maria explains.
The old house in the vineyard is being restored
It’s immediately obvious why the wines are regarded as a defining influence. The style shows perfumed herbs and spices of the garrigue, never heavy, always elegant rather than powerful. This shows through both reds and whites, with the latter tending to savory and mineral impressions. There’s a strong impression that you are really seeing the terroir reflected in the wines. Notes from the tasting:
Primus, 2014 (white)
This has 24 hours skin contact, barrel fermentation – “the barrels are getting older and older” – with battonage, and then bottled after two months. It’s a field blend from a vineyard of old vines with 19 different varieties. Restrained nose is somewhere between spicy and savory. The palate offers an impression of spice and the garrigue. Acidity is balanced. This has a lovely herbal freshness, and should mature well for mid term (say five years).
Alvaro Castro Reserva, 2011 (white)
This is Encruzado from the Outeiro vineyard. Quite a spicy nose, but in the house style there is a herbal touch giving a savory impression to the palate. Nicely rounded on the palate, with soft spices and herbs. This is a wine of the garrigue with a savory catch to the finish giving a sophisticated impression.
Quinta de Saes, Reserva, 2011
This is a field blend. It spends 3 years in barrels and then two years in bottle before release. Lovely acidity and hint of piquancy gives a fresh nose with suggestions of red fruits leading into a herbal sense of the garrigue. Filigree acidity supports a complex array of flavor. Elegant smooth red fruits on palate with silky tannins and some herbs and spices at the end, where there is a smoky impression retronasally. There’s a faint bitterness at the very end. This is ready but will develop in a more mineral direction with time.
“This is Touriga Nacional, from the old clone, which is naturally concentrated,” Maria explains. Spicy nose with some high toned herbal impressions. Very fine, most refined, here is all the precision and purity of the variety. Nicely delineated black fruits are slightly perfumed, , with some nutty overtones on the finish.
Quinta da Pellada, 2007
This is a mix between a field blend and Touriga Nacional and other varieties. Slightly spicy impression to nose. Softer and broader than the pure Touriga Nacional. Nice balance with soft black fruits, balanced acidity, a touch waxy on the finish. That sense of the garrigue comes through with perfume and spices at the end.