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.


Visit to Dão: Quinta dos Roques

Quinta dos Roques was a little difficult to find, as the GPS took us to the middle of a forest by a track that really needed 4-wheel drive, but when we called the Quinta, Luis Lourenço said that the GPS often does that, and he came to retrieve us. The quinta is quite a bit out of the nearest village and you’d be likely to feel you’ve gone wrong even on the right track. Once you arrive there’s a tasting room that showcases the elegance of the wines.

Roques1Quinta dos Roques

Luis is a lively and enquiring fellow, who’s always experimenting with his varieties and vineyards. He started out as a maths teacher and says it took him a while to adjust to wine. “In maths, 2 plus 2 always equals 4,” he says, “but in wine it never makes 4.” A tasting here is an education as you go through many of the varieties that go into the blends: “In terms of numbers there are more varietal wines, but in terms of bottles, it is mostly blends.”

The style here is in the direction of elegance rather than power, always showing well delineated fruits. The top whites and reds show a strong sense of minerality and age beautifully. Comparing a white varietal Encruzado of the current vintage with the 2001 shows an amazing evolution, and the red Quinta dos Roques of 2001 is still lively. The Garrafeira (the top quality classification in the Dão) of 2008 still seems quite youthful. These are definitely wines of character. Some favorites from the tasting:

Encruzado, 2014

Unlike the other white varieties, which see only stainless steel, this is split between half in stainless steel and half in new or 1-2-year oak. Really pale. Faint notes of vanillin and nuts on nose. Quite crisp acidity balances the oak impressions. The fruits are rather neutral and not really yet breaking through the oak (which is used to add flavor interest). Yet slowly more flavor variety emerges in the glass: this does take time

Encruzado, 2001

Huge contrast between intense flavors of this wine and the rather neutral character of the 2015 shows that variety develops in bottle, but quite slowly. Color has picked up from transparent in 2015 to medium gold after 15 years. There’s a mix of oak, spices, and savory elements on the nose, and a touch of honey, which becomes more distinct on the palate. This vintage had 100% new oak; you can still see the oak, but it’s balanced by lots of flavor variety in the fruits, with quite a bit of spice and honey. The palate is thicker and really intensifies in the glass over time, becoming savory and herbal and very complex.

Quinta dos Roques, 2013

This is about half Touriga Nacional and half other local varieties. It spends 12 months in oak, which shows as spice on the nose together with a sense of acidity. The oak conveys a touch of bitterness to the finish. Faint animal hints retronasally bring some complexity. Still a bit young, the fruits seem to be struggling to get out from under.

Quinta dos Roques, Reserva, 2013

This is a field blend from a single 38-year old vineyard. Very faint animal impressions bring complexity to nose. Complex black fruits on palate point in a mineral direction with savory overtones. Very nice balance of fruit to structure, which is present but not obtrusive. This should turn more savory with time and I expect it to age beautifully.



Visit to the Dão : Quinta da Pellada

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.

Carrocel, 2011

“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.