Wines and Food in the Dão Part 2

Continuing about the Dão wines and lunch at Viseu (see prior entry):   After the three aged Dão whites from the Centro de Estudo Vitivinicolas (CEV), we moved into reds – beginning with a 2008 and moving back in time with each course to end with a 1963.

Cynthia Jenson and Manuel Moreira at the Dão The Next Big Thing luncheon

Cynthia Jenson and Manuel Moreira at the Dão The Next Big Thing luncheon

The first course to be accompanied by the red wines was a Morcela de Beiras – a black pudding sausage – accompanied by pineapple purée.  Readers may recall I had a chouriço (a spicy pork sausage) with pineapple at the dinner in Porto recently.  The morcela is very rich, but not spicy, and was also well foiled by the pineapple, I really like these combinations with the pineapple (and there is a particularly juicy sweet pineapple from the Açores which is divine).  I have had various black pudding sausages from England, France and Germany, and so far, I find this Portuguese version, a specialty of the Beiras region, the most appealing, both for flavour and texture.  One of my companions at table was Manuel Moreira, a top sommelier who, among other ventures, has the G-Spot Gastronomia restaurant in Sintra (update:  which sadly closed in 2013).  I asked him about the sausage, and how to prepare it.  For the dish presented to us at lunch, he said they would have cooked the sausage first, then removed the skin and wrapped small portions of the meat in phyllo dough and baked it; he said his own favourite preparation was to use it broken up into a risotto (the sausage filling has a very soft texture which would just melt into a risotto beautifully), or frankly, just in a sandwich.

After this course the discussion again became general and returned to the problem of what wines makers can sell – and again, the comment was made that the traditional, that is, the uniquely regional styles, can be difficult to sell.  One winemaker commented if the journalists don’t like it – if a bottle is €10 but only rated 16 of 20 points – it won’t sell, and the winemaker is obliged to reconsider his style to stay in business.  The winemaker basically said it was up to us – the journalists and bloggers present at the tasting – to allow them to keep making these more traditional styles.

Frankly, what I think journalists and bloggers have to make clear (at the risk of undercutting their own prestige perhaps), and the readers understand, is that, like most things, it is all a matter of personal preference.  One reviewer’s 16 could be another’s 19.5 – as a reader and wine lover, you have to be open minded.  Try to ignore the whole numbers thing and look at tasting notes from several sources, best to go back to the maker’s own notes, if possible.  Many wine makers’ websites now have thorough technical notes posted – not just flavour notes, but technical data about the terroir, the wine making techniques, levels of acidity, Baumé (sweetness/ripeness) and so on.  If the tasting notes consistently cite minerality, and you know you enjoy minerality, then to me, the wine is clearly worth a try.  If you aren’t crazy about overwhelming oakiness, then look at the oenologist’s notes about ageing regimes, and if you see the wine has been aged in American oak for a year or two, don’t even think it!

Or, you could just take a punt and buy a bottle and try it yourself, be your own critic … the point is to find what YOU like.  What do you have to lose?  €10?  You would lose that seeing a lousy movie in a theatre, or buying a crummy book, or buying some food and forgetting it in the back of the fridge till it goes green.  Personally, I’d rather risk that sum of money on a wine.  I am increasingly convinced there are very few truly BAD, genuinely faulty wines – i.e. badly made, sour, or corked.  And in those cases, your wine merchant should take the return of the wine without any arguments – if he doesn’t, find another wine merchant.  Wines can be badly served (usually too warm reds, or whites which have been iced to death so no flavour can possibly escape), they may be paired with a food that doesn’t suit the wine, or a wine may be tasted alone and feel overwhelming or rough which only needs food to smooth it out, put it in perspective and allow it to enchant your mouth.  Or the wine may be perfectly good but simply not your preference in taste sensation – for me, overt oakiness is a killer, which I know many people enjoy immensely.  I like tannins, but I know people for whom the degree I can enjoy would kill their pleasure.  Taste, learn, and make notes of what appealed (or didn’t) to you, to better inform your next purchasing decision.

One point made in the conversation at lunch in Viseu had to do with the fact that wines are nearly always tasted for review purposes without food, and that type of tasting demands high extraction of fruit and American oak to appeal to palate, and also to the demand for an international style (I think they were all avoiding the name of a far too influential critic who is pretty harsh in in his point scoring on anything that doesn’t meet his personal preference for this style… ugh).  Paul White commented – and I wholeheartedly agree with him – that oak doesn’t go with food, but it does stand out and make a big impression in a stand-alone tasting.  But hope was expressed that that style was becoming passé – the reaction setting in – and by standing still with its traditional wine styles, Portugal could now move into the lead.  I hope so, they deserve to.

A couple other comments that caught my ear over the course of the meal:

That the Dão is the Burgundy of Portugal… Certainly not in the sense you would ever mistake a Touriga Nacional for a Pinot Noir, or a Dão wine for a Burgundy, but:  in the sense that both regions, and both grapes, create full-bodied wines, with a fascinatingly complex spectrum of flavours, that are capable of infinite variation according to terroir and vinification, that are capable of ageing, and that are fantastic food wines… then yes, the comparison is wholly valid.

That a possible strategy for the winemakers is to make a small quantity of these fine traditional style wines and sell them at a premium price – at which point they will appeal to a particular group of people (“maybe not the right people”) who will buy it precisely because of that price premium and rarity value, and thereby keep the winemakers in business… and help keep these traditional styles alive, hopefully at all price points.

And a winemaker commenting, sadness doesn’t pay the taxes, so I try to stay happy…

I think all the reds served at lunch were blends with, if not entirely Touriga Nacional.  This is a grape which is claimed as a native by both the Dão and the Douro.  I have had quite a few Douro TN wines of course and pure TN wines from both Alentejo and Ribatejo as well.  I remember Hamilton Reis, winemaker for the Alentejano Cortes de Cima, saying how he loved this grape – it has it all – fruit, earth, mineral, floral and herbal notes, and a good acidity too.  I am fascinated by how its character changes from region to region – a lesson in the power of terroir.

In the Dão, with the granitic soil, the minerality and acidity seems to come uppermost (versus the Douro schist which seems to bring out the fruit, tannins, and often the violet florals).  My two favourite red wines of the lunch were the Terras de Tavares Reserva 2003 – which was fresh, with good tannins and acidity, an excellent food wine and wonderful with the wild hare meatballs; and the last wine, the CEV Dão Touriga Nacional 1963 – which was all earth and mineral on nose and palate, and yet still really fresh (the magic of fabulous acidity).  The colour was still a deep ruby, only a little brown cast on rim, and the tannins were mellow but still holding the structure of the wine.  That was a great combination with the loin of salt cod which had been simmered in wine lees.  Yes, a mature red with fish – try it.

At the end of the meal Charles Metcalfe was asked to wrap up the discussion for us, and he concluded his remarks by saying he felt the Dão was one of the most fabulous regions in the world, not just within Portugal.  Hear, hear.  Heaven knows I haven’t his breadth and depth of experience, but from what I tasted, I can believe him.

Altogether, an extraordinary event, very well organised, which has convinced me to return and learn more about this region and its wines.  Once I am through the harvest here in the Douro I hope to travel around Portugal a bit more, and I think the Dão will  be the first stop.

Some notes on other wines tasted in the morning, before the lunch, which left particularly vivid impressions:

Vinha Paz  Of the three wines shown, my favourite was 2006 Vinha Othon, a blend of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz with a little Jaen and Baga, from a separate vineyard of very old vines, roughly 60 years.  Beautifully balanced, just a beautiful wine.

Vinicola de Nelas S.A.  The first two wines shown were from their Status range (they make several brands).  The Status Branco 2009 was a blend of Encruzado and Sercial, they select very mature grapes and the two varieties are vinified separately.  No wood in the making.  The nose was gorgeous but defies description (sorry!) and the palate was really fresh, tropical fruit, citrus and floral notes.  The Touriga Nacional 2007 was also made without wood – which is extraordinary – I think this is the first time I’ve had TN without wood aging.  The floral qualities came to the fore in this wine for me, and the tannins were very very smooth, silky.  Completely different character from any other Touriga Nacional I’ve had.  The third wine was also a 100% Touriga Nacional, this one their Quinta das Estrémuas 2004.  This one does spend 12 months in French oak, is a more traditional style, earthy violets and other floral notes coming to the fore on the nose, very smooth and a long finish.  Would love to know more about these wines and winemaking, also the terroir.  One to follow up and visit some day…

Quinta do Perdigão  I tasted a Branco Reserva 2009 100% Encruzado aged in French oak, and a Rosé 2009 which was very fresh, a blend of Touriga Nacional (which is aged alone in new oak barrels) and Tinta Roriz, Jaen, and Alfrocheiro (which are not oaked).

Some more links:

Manuel Moreira’s restaurant in Sintra, Gspot Gastronomia, has closed, alas in 2013.  His energies are now focussed on consulting and providing training and sommelier services through Wine4You Service.

Websites for some of the red wines at lunch (see menu and winelist in prior post):

Boas Quintas S.A  makers of the Touriga Nacional Quinta Fonte do Ouro 2008 , served with the Morcela de Beiras, Portuguese and English, quite a lot of information, including contacts for distribution worldwide

Quinta da Bica S.A. whose Reserva 2005  was served with the Morcela de Beiras, Portuguese only

Quinta Vale das Escadinhas S.A. de Sigueiros, their Quinta da Falorca Garrafeira 2003  was served with the wild hare meatballs.  The site seems to consist solely of a short video  which has beautiful footage of the region, as well as the wine making and quinta, with a pretty song for a soundtrack.

Quinta da Boavista – maker of the Terras de Tavares Reserva 2003 mentioned above, served with the wild hare meatballs.  The winemaker, João Tavares de Pina, was also the organiser of this event.  When he is not making and promoting Dão wines, he breeds horses – there are some wonderful photos and videos on the website – and the Quinta also has accomodation for visitors, in the heart of the Dão region.  Website in several languages, worth a look for the photos to get a sense of the region, as well as all the other information.

One site I had been aware of, and have now begun to use, is Adegga.  One of the founders, André Ribeirinho, attended this event and has begun posting his notes on many of the individual wines to this site.  Described as “A social wine discovery service” it is essentially a database of tasting notes posted by anyone who has tasted the relevant wine and wants to share their impressions.  There are a lot of features, such as being able to track other member’s postings (good if you find someone whose preferences coincide with yours), check prices and availability, create wishlists, and much more.  They have a blog and an events listing, including virtual tastings conducted through the site.  Based in Portugal but with a very broad  international user base, including many prominent wine bloggers, critics, wine shops and restaurants.

Finally, another blog which covered this event, written by João Pedro de Carvalho – who provides a thorough set of more specific tasting notes and ratings, in Portuguese:  Copo de 3:  Dão The Next Big Thing