Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Bottle images courtesy of the producers
The Dão is a Portuguese wine region in the North Center of the country, a bit further south than the better known Duro Valley. The Dão DOC has been producing exceptional wines since time immemorial. It takes its name from the Dão River along which the majority of the region's vineyards are located and Roman built terraces are still in use in some of the area’s vineyards. 80% of the cultivation is from indigenous red grapes, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Alfrocheiro Preto. The whites are mostly from another local cultivar, Encruzado. The DOC regulations stipulate that at least 20% of each red wine must be from Touriga Nacional.
A lovely vintner’s lunch was set up at the Eno Terra Restaurant, in Kingston, NJ and both Barbara and I were happy to be invited. All the red wines we tasted were spicy and full-bodied, bold, brimming with spice, cherry, black currant and the ones aged in oak vanilla aromas and notes of dark chocolate, cedar, black tea and smoke. The palate was juicy and lively with a burst of acidity that makes these wines very suitable for heavier dishes based on beef or venison. The whites were mostly fruity, showing citrus aromas with considerable minerality.
Especially nice was the white we received upon arrival, the 2018 Quinta de Cabriz Reserva Branco Encruzado; a dry, rather acidic white with a medium body. It was redolent with citric aromas, some burnt caramel notes and stone fruit and light oak.
With the first course, which was Branzino Fillet with spinach, roasted mushrooms and saffron potato finished with lemon caper bure blanc; 3 whites were paired -- 2 Encruzados, Kelman 2017 and Flor de Nelas 2015 and the Casa de Passarela “O Fugitivo Curtimenta” 2016.
Both Encruzado-based wines showed stone fruit and citrus on the nose that paired very well with the fish fillet.
Of note was that the Passarela wine is from an estate founded in 1892, before Dão was demarcated as a wine region. Many of the vines are nearly 100 years old, and the fruit is manually crushed by ancient presses. I visited the winery in 2010 while attending SISAB, the annual Food & Wine Expo in Lisbon and was very impressed. The whites I tasted at the quinta at the time were floral, with notes of lemon, tea and honey and light vanilla, and the 2016 version tasted consistently the same.
The second course was Pork Tenderloin with sweet potato puree, sautéed Brussels sprouts finished with Madeira wine. The three reds served with the pork were Cabriz Reserva Red 2014 an inexpensive but tasty wine, Pedra Cancela “Seleção do Enólogo” 2016 and Fonte de Ouro Reserva 2017 (could not get an image for the red, only the white was available).
The Cabriz Reserva Red 2014 was crisp red with considerable minerality, with concentrated flavors of dark cherry, plum and dried raspberry, layered with rich, spicy notes. White chocolate details show on the finish, accented by hints of pepper.
The Pedra Cancela “Seleção do Enólogo” 2016 was an interesting blend of Touriga-Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz. It’s an award-winning wine with aromas of black raspberries, strawberries, violets and star anise with notes of vanilla and cedar chips. Sweet generous fruit on the palate.
The Fonte de Ouro Reserva 2017, was a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional with the balance made of Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro and Jaen; the percentages of the 3 complimentary grapes slightly change depending on the harvest.
The third course was a Bavette de Boeuf served with braised carrots, charred Cipollini onion and mashed potatoes served with a red wine sauce.
There were 2 exceptional reds served with the beef; a 2011 Quinta de Lemos 100% Touriga Nacional and a 2015 Quinta dos Roques, also 100% Touriga Nacional. I thought those last two wines were absolutely exceptional examples of what sophisticated Portuguese winemaking is. They both exhibited intense floral aromas of ripe black fruit -- blackberry, black plum and hints of violet flowers. They were both vigorous and well balanced in the mouth.
To your health!
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