If you aren’t that familiar with the Dão (pronounced “Dow”) region of Portugal, you’re not alone.
Many wine consumers immediately associate Portugal with the fortified wines known as port, which hail from the Douro region in the northern part of the country.
But in the heart of the Iberian country lies one of the most diverse — and value-driven — wine regions in the world. That’s saying something, because Portugal is small to begin with.
The country is only 350 miles long and 135 miles wide. That’s just one-quarter the size of California. Yet, it has the largest number of microclimates per square mile in the wine world, and it is home to more than 250 native wine grape varieties.
With such a combination of grapes, climates and soils, you can bet there is going be a plethora of wines to choose from. Add to that a younger generation of winemakers who are dedicated to blending modern winemaking techniques with Old World charm, and the result is a large selection outstanding wines at very reasonable prices.
The Dão wine region — one of the oldest formally recognized wine regions — is located in the center of Portugal on a plateau that is sheltered on three sides by the granite mountain ranges of Serra da Estrela, Serra do Caramulo and Serra da Nave.
These natural barriers help to temper the aggressive continental winds of the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
The region has ample rainfall during the winter months. Meanwhile, long, hot and dry summers lead right up to harvest time.
However, one of the most significant characteristics of the Dão region is the sandy soils that sit on top of a granite base, which runs through the majority of the valley.
These low-fertility soils stress the grape vines, helping to concentrate flavors in the fruit.
Since most of the indigenous grape varieties in the Dão are unique to the Iberian Peninsula, it would not be surprising if some of the names are unfamiliar to many people. The region is known primarily for four red grape wine varieties and four white grape varieties.
The most notable of the red varieties is Touriga Nacional, a grape that imparts intense characteristics — very ripe dark fruit flavors and a hint of wild forest layered over firm tannins.
This grape is often associated with wines that have the potential for prolonged aging.
Another popular red grape variety is Tinta Roriz, also known as Aragonez. This grape variety is known for its excellent balance, marked by the quality of firm tannins and abundant acidity, resulting in very elegant, long-lasting wines.
Encruzado is the most popular white grape variety in the region, and for good reason. It produces wines that are wonderfully delicate and elegant, with lovely aromas of orchard fruit, white flowers and mineral notes.
Best of all, they have great potential for prolonged aging — a rare trait in most white wines.
Malvasia Fina is generally blended with other grape varieties from the region and is coveted for its ability to convey a certain “Je ne sais quoi,” a sort of special personality unique to the white wines found in Dão.
The Encruzado grape produces a charming and elegant wine. The 2018 Quinta Dos Roques Encruzado has an elegant bouquet of melon, peach and white flowers. On the palate, the first impression is ripe orchard fruit, followed by delightful acidity, which provides freshness and structure. The finish is very long and leaves a lovely impression of white peach on the back of the tongue. $18
The 2017 Casa de Santar Tinto — a blend of Aragonez (50%), Touriga Nacional (30%) and Alfrocheiro (20%) — is perfect for receptions or lazy afternoons. Aromas of red berry fruit and dried herbs fill the bouquet, while flavors of black cherry, dark plum and savory spices play nicely together across the palate. Definitely a crowd-pleaser at a pleasant price. $11
If you have to look twice at the price, you know it’s either not worth the money or it’s over-delivering in value.
The 2014 Quinta da Garrida Reserva definitely falls into the latter category. Made predominantly from Touriga Nacional, this red blend is simply dazzling. The dark purple wine has a beautiful bouquet of cassis, black plum and hints of espresso.
In the mouth, it features flavors of ripe dark cherries and black plums with black pepper on the long, balanced finish. This is a big-but-balanced wine with firm tannins that can stand up to well-marbled steak. $17
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