Portugal Part 3: Visiting the premier wine maker in Dão

There is no doubt in my mind that Álvaro Castro is one of the top wine makers in Portugal. He makes an impressive range of wines in his different Quintas in the Dão region.
Alvaro de Castro is an engineer who inherited the vineyards in 1980. At that time he decided to dedicate himself fully to the wine business and restore the family tradition of producing wines. His first vintage was produced in 1989. Today he also works closely with his daughter Maria Castro.

I am sometimes struggling to grasp the range of wines that Alvaro produces. He has two main brands and that are Quinta da Saes and Quinta da Pellada but also a large variety of special projects like Carousel, Primus, PAPE, Doda (in cooperation with Dirk Niepoort) as well as his entry level wines under the Saes name. Wine production has ancient roots at Quinta de Saes. There are even records from 1527 of tax paid in wine from the Quinta and the Quinta as such dates back at least to 1258 when the earliest references of it can be found.

The vines at the different vineyards range in age from a few years up to 65 years old. As it is in Dão there is no surprise that it is planted in the hills, the average altitude is around 550 meters. The area is close to highest mountain range of Portugal and the national park of Serra d’Estrela and it also means that the vineyards are not planted in the regular pine tree surrounded clearings. The total area amounts to more than 60 hectares. The soil is granite with rows of sand and clay. They have more than 30 varietals planted but some of the bigger ones are Alfrocheiro, Cercial, Encruzado, Jaen , Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional

I struggled a bit to find the place as there are no real signs for it once reaching the approximate location given by the GPS. I did however by chance see something that looked like some wine barrels and decided to turn into the yard there and luckily it was enough. I was greeted by Álvaro’s daughter Maria (and the three friendly dogs following her) so I knew I was in the right place. She informed me that most people need to ask for directions in the little village close by.

Maria told me to leave my little Citroen behind as it would not be able to easily drive where we were going. We were heading up to the Quinta da Pellada and for that we need the 4-wheel drive of the old Toyota Jeep. So we all, the dogs included, jumped in and headed up in the hills. In addition to producing great grapes Quinta da Pellada also has some wonderful views and a grand old building that they are in the process of restoring. It was partially destroyed during the civil war but is now looking very nice. It is not entirely restored but already looks fantastic.


We also drove down to Saes and had a look at some of the newer vines that they are planting. I am certain that there are many more exciting things coming in the future this producer.
We then returned to the winery to sample some wines. I also had the pleasure of meeting Antonio Madeira, another wine maker, more on him and his wines to come in future posts. It was lovely to sit down inside by the fire place, protected from the slightly cold winds, and sample some of these great wines.

The wines we sampled were:
Quinta de Saes white 2014: Citrus and melon aromas. The palate is fresh and crisp with mineral and a hint of spice. Rating 3.

Quinta de Saes rosé 2014: Fresh with notes red fruit. On the palate is fresh with hints of fruit and a nice acidity. Not a bad wine but just not a great one. Rating 2.5

Quinta de Saes red 2012: A blend of Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional. It is a young wine, dark ruby colored. Nice earthy aroma mixed with ripe berries. Balanced with a lot of fruit. At this price level an excellent wine. Rating 3.5.

Quinta de Saes Reserva Encruzado 2013: This a 100% Encruzado wine. Very nice touch of spice and fresh fruits, green melon and apple. Very nice and crisp acidity. Rating 3.5.

Quinta de Saes Reserva red 2012: Blend of old vines (up to 40 varieties) Dark and sweet fruits in the nose. The flavor has a mix of spiciness and sweet fruits. Nice balance and structure, long finish. Very nice wine. Rating 4

Quinta da Pellada white Primus 2012: Made from old vines so the percentages of grapes are not certain but there is Encruzada, Bical, Terrantez, Verdelho and more in there (I believe Maria mentioned it was 35-40 varieties). The nose has lovely mineral, melon and citrus and it has a lovely creamy mouth feel, crispy and mineral on the palate. It somehow remains light while being concentrated in flavor. Lovely now but should age very well. This could very well be one of my favorite whites ever. Rating 5.

Quinta da Pellada Red 2003: Deep red color. The aroma is a mix of dark cherries and plum with some ripe fruits. Herbal and black cherries gives the wine a wonderfully concentrated mouth feel. Rating: 4.5

I also later sampled the Carroucel but will be a separate review on that. All in all a lovely visit and I do hope we can find someway to work together as they produce some excellent wines.

Wine review: Quinta do Perdigao Colheita 2009

Continuing on the Portugal theme but this time not connected to my recent trip there but still about Portuguese wine. I visited one of my favorite wine bars, not only in Barcelona but in the world, Monvinic. They always have an interesting selection of wines as it rotates as soon as a bottle is finished. In Spain it is not common to find Portuguese wine so I was glad to find this one from Quinta do Perdigao.

The vineyard was planted in 1997 at an altitude of 365 meters, in the area around Viseu and covers 7 hectares. The soil is granite based and the vine density is close to 5 000 per acre, they mainly have Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, and Alfrocheiro as well as some Encruzado. Production is largely done sustainably and pesticidies are avoided. Not sure if they are organically certified as I have heard differing stories, but they are trying to produce in a sustianble and ecological manner. It is a small family winery so no huge volumes produced here so perhaps something for my list to visit next time around.

The wine I sampled was the Quinta do Perdigão Colheita from 2009. It has 20% Touriga-Nacional, 35% Tinta-Roriz (Tempranillo) 35% Jaen (Tinta Mencia) and 10% Alfrocheiro.

I am not that familiar with Alfrocheiro. Wines made from it are often rich in colour with firm but ripe tannins and a good balance of alcohol, tannins and acidity. Flavor is often ripe with berry fruit, particularly oblackberries and ripe stawberries. They are somehwat prone to attack by oidium and botrytis and require a lot of attention. Origin is somewhat debated as it originally was thought to be related to Pinot Noir but now the consensus appears to be that it is an indigenous Portugese variety. This specific wine only has 10% of Alfrocheiro but I will try to seek out some wines where it is more dominant.

The wine has been aged in French oak barrels (225 litres) for 12 months. The color was deep ruby red. The nose has a nice touch of red fruits and herbs. The Aromas include a touch of smoke, dried and fresh herbs, and savory fruits. The wine has a nice acidity but with some tannins. There are clear falvors of red and dark fruit. For the price range I think it is a good wine (available for around €8-10 in many places), the quality is not exceptional but still good so rating it a 3 for quality and a 3.5 for value for money.

Discovering Portugal

The past month or so, our blog has been going a steady path. We have been writing a lot about shops, restaurant and reviewing some wines. We have shared experiences from along our travels and extended our focus to coffee and cocktails. We have shared all that we have enjoyed along the way and will continue to do so.

However, we are now back in Sweden and focus will inevitably shift back to Europe and more into our business. This is why today I would like to share with you something about our next adventure, which will be discovering Portugal as a wine region and a potential for extending our business. On Monday, M will be heading to Porto to meet up with some exciting new producers and I will join him for next weekend to meet our friends at Vieira de Sousa and drive around the beautiful Douro valley. But before we set out to travel, we thought we would do some studying to not sound like completely amateurs when talking to our new acquaintance.

Five things I read today about Portuguese wine:

  1. Wine laws today are based on the French Appelation d’Origine. There are three basic categories of Portuguese wine: Vinho de Mesa, Niho Regional, and Denominação de Origem Controlada. The lowest level is Vinho de Mesa, Table wine where grapes can come from anywhere in Portugal and the winery does not need to include a vintage. Above Vinho de Mesa is Vinho Regional, Regional wine. In a regional wine, 85 percent of grapes must come from the region on the label. Regional wines, however, are not subject to the strict requirements of a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) wine. Each DOC must follow specific guidelines and the grapes in these wines must come entirely from the region on the label.
  2. Portugal has eleven major wine regions. The Douro is by far the most significant to fine wine production. Other regions of international recognition include Dão, Vinho Verde and Alentejo.
  3. Portugal has the very large number of (up to 500) indigenous grape varieties. Some of the most commonly used both by traditional and modern winemakers are Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. Older vineyards are planted with multiple grape varieties and as a result, sometimes these field blends are so varied that identifying all of the grapes isn’t possible. When new vineyards are created, single planting is now the norm.
  4. The country has clear climatic divisions. In the northern part of the Portugal, the climate is maritime with warm summers and cool, wet winters. In some areas rainfall can reach 100 inches a year. Towards the south its a different story, as rainfall is lower and summer temperatures are much higher.
  5. Equally dramatic as France and Spain, Portugal suffered from the phylloxeira epidemic (wine plaque) of the early 19th century and lost a significant number of its old vines. After the plaque, many abandoned the wine-business and the ones who didn’t planted new, larger yield varieties resulting to overall lower quality. Today, we are seeing a rise of small boutique wineries, quintas, focusing on better wine making techniques and using grapes from a single region to create cleaner and softer wines that are better received by the international wine market.

I think I need to do some more studying before next week, but this is a good start for discovering wine in Portugal. I can’t wait to share pictures and stories about the actual trip. If you are up for Portuguese wine-talk, you can check out the post we did on Port a few months back (link here). Have a great weekend!