Visit to Dão: Quinta dos Carvalhais

Portugal’s largest wine company, Sogrape, started in the Dão in 1957 by buying grapes, but bought the Quinta dos Carvalhais only in 1987, with the first vintage in 1990. Today this is a vast enterprise, really two wineries, one for making 300,000 bottles annually from Quinta dos Carvalhais’s 50 hectares, the other for producing 2 million bottles of entry level wine from other sources. I met with Beatriz Almeida, who started with Sogrape in 2007, and has been making all the wines at Carvalhais since 2012.

Cavarlhais2The modern winery

Beatriz is convinced by the merits of blending. “We did a study of soils and found five soil types, so when we make a varietal wine, we blend from all five terroirs and get more complexity,” Beatriz says. She takes the logic further. “If you accept that blending varieties and blending sources makes more complex wine, why should you reject blending of vintages?” This resulted in the Especialidada wine, which came from blending lots of individual varieties that had been originally kept for experimental purposes.

“The varieties are the same but the wines are completely different from the Douro; the terroir of the Dão is quite different. It’s mostly granite, but with some clay which gives higher water retention,” she says. Whites are about 25% of production (this is pretty standard for the Dão). The style of the wines is elegant and smooth, with a sort of silky edge to the finish of both reds and whites. The whites show minerality, reds a taut precision., showing why the Quinta is a leader in the move towards elegance in the Dão.

Reserva, Red, 2011

This is a roughly equal blend of Encruzado and Verdelho. Fermentation is in stainless steel and then the wine is transferred to old oak barriques to mature for three years. “It will keep for 20-30 years,” Beatriz says, “because after three years in barrel, it won’t oxidize any more.” Smoky sense of oak shows on nose, but is less obvious on palate, although there is a faint bitterness on the finish. Medium weight palate has real sense of smoothness, showing sweet, ripe, stone fruits with touch of lemon, and quite a silky impression at the end.

Especialidada, white, no vintage

This is an unusual wine which is a blend of vintages (in this case 2005 and 2006), all of which stayed in barrel until 2015. Oxidative style but not oxidized. It’s a deep color and shows some oak on the nose and honey on the palate. Lovely fresh fruit concentration, good weight of fruits, touch of bitterness at the end to counteract the honeyed impression. More herbal than savory. Resembles the Reserva in general style but more intense.

Reserva, Red, 2008

A taut linear precision of black fruits suggests a high proportion of Touriga Nacional. The style shows the elegance of the best wines of the Dao with well defined black fruit aromatics showcasing purity of fruit. There’s more tannic structure than is immediately apparent, not because it’s hidden by powerful fruits but because it’s exceedingly fine. Flavors are just coming out now.

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