Portugal has many natural advantages when it comes to growing grapes. It has a large number of indigenous varieties capable of retaining acidity even in very hot climates. These grapes when blended provide a delightful freshness that produces rich wines.
The country’s full-bodied whites tend to be higher in alcohol and richer in texture than wines from France or Italy. Grapes come from vineyards bathed in sunlight because of high summer temperatures. White wines from Alentejo are inclined to be soft and rich, while intense and “minerally” whites come from the Douro. Wines from Dao fall somewhere in the middle.
The 2010 Paco dos Cunhas de Santar is from the Dao region. It is a blend of encruzado, bical and cercial grapes.
This wine’s gold colour belies its relative youth. It has a strong backbone of acidity with a creamy texture, and offers aromas of cashews and almonds combined with hints of vanilla ice cream.
The encruzado dominates the blend. This grape is restricted to the Dão region, and is one of Portugal’s best grapes for making whites. The best examples have delicate aromas and a touch of resin. Amongst its many virtues is the ability to maintain almost perfect balance between sugar and acidity, producing rich and well-structured wines with extraordinary ageing potential. Encruzado is used both as a single variety and as a star ingredient in many Dão blends.
Wines made with bical are soft and typically have aromas of peaches and apricots. In riper years they may suggest hints of tropical fruit.
Cercial is grown in a range of regions, which explains why it has different spellings and characteristics. In the Douro and Dão it is spelled cercial, while in Bairrada it is known as cerceal. In Madeira it is sercial, where it makes the famous fortified wines named after the island.
This is a white wine that would appeal to the kind of person who only drinks reds. Which leads us to the other wine reviewed this week, the Niepoort DODA.
The DODA red has an unusual label, a wild combination of images suggesting risk (a pair of dice), aromas (a pair of noses) and partnership (line drawings of two winemakers) plus other symbols and allusions.
The name is a blend of the words for the Douro and Dao. It is also a combination of the work of two of Portugal’s finest winemakers. Dirk Niepoort, a champion from the Douro region, has combined forces with Alvaro Castro, one of the best from the Dao. The result is a wine that is grand cru Burgundian in scope and texture.
DODA is a blend of touriga franca, touriga nacional, tinta roriz and tinta amarella. Each works its magic to present a sensation of dark fruits matched with savoury elements from the spice cupboard. Think ripe black cherries surrounded by layers of bergamot, soy and balsamic, mixed with rehydrated porcini mushrooms.
The wine has a creamy feel, the result of malolactic fermentation. A lively mineral acidity is evident on the palate plus well-integrated tannins. This is complex wine with wondrous length suggesting great ageing potential.
Dirk Niepoort said the idea for the wine came from his father, with the aim to blend a “perfect wine” through a union of two distinct and great wine regions. The freshness and elegance of Dao mix with the power and fine tannins of Douro.
The first edition of the wine, originally named DADO, appeared in 2000 as a 50:50 blend of wine from Quinta da Pellada in the Dao and the Douro’s Quinta do Carril. DADO was also produced in 2001, 2003 and 2004 but distribution was limited to Portugal. Vines have an average age of 30 to 80 years.
Since 2005 the DODA has been intended for the world market. That year only 4,608 regular-size bottles were made, plus 212 magnums. Because of an undefined legal dispute, the label cannot mention the regions involved, the history of the wine, or the year of harvest or bottling.
Fermentation of the Dão batch was carried out in lagares with the wine aged in French oak barrels where malolatic fermentation occurred. Grapes from the Douro components were fermented partially in small stainless steel vats but mostly in traditional lagares where the grapes were gently treaded by foot in the stone containers. After 10 days of fermentation, the wine was aged for 21 months in French oak. The final blend was bottled without fining.
This wine is available from a limited range of Asian distributors, and is an absolute wonder. It would match well with duck or game dishes, as well as a range of stews.