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What our expert thought of Alvaro Castro, Outeiro, Dão




about this wine About this wine
 
From the late ’60s to the early ’90s, Portuguese red meant Dão - at least if it wasn’t port.  Dão was to Portugal what Rioja was to Spain.  Today the trendy Portuguese dry reds come from the Douro - port country - or from Alentejo, and Dão is regarded as distinctly old-school.
 
So is Rioja, but at least you can still find it on the supermarket shelves.  Dão has practically disappeared along with almost all other Portuguese wines.  Only port itself remains, clinging on next to the sherry in the much-reduced fortified wines section.
 
Those of you who can remember the ’70s (and I know I'm not the only one) will remember Portugal taking up about a fifth of the non-French off-licence shelf space.  (Back then we bought wine in offys, not supermarkets.) There were no New World wines, save perhaps those Paul Masson carafes with the jam-jar lids, but there was lots of German (Liebfraumilch), Italian (Chianti, Asti Spumante), Spanish (Rioja, sherry) and a little Hungarian (Laski Riesling, Bull’s Blood). Then there was a lot of Portuguese: Vinho Verde, Mateus rosé, port and Dão.
 
Like most Portuguese wines, red Dão is made from a blend of grape varieties.  Around nine are permitted but only one is compulsory: Touriga Nacional must constitute at least 20% of the blend.  It’s best known as a port grape, despite comprising only 2% of the vineyards in the Douro, but Dão is its true home - it originated here.
 
Back in its 1970s heyday all Dão was made by workers' cooperatives - by law.  The grapes came from myriads of tiny smallholdings, with vines often planted around the edge of other crops.  The wines were then sold in bulk to merchants who blended and bottled them, and then sold them under brand names.  The system kept prices low but unfortunately did the same for quality.
 
The coop-only law was repealed when Portugal joined the EU in 1986, and today the best Dão comes from producers who own their own vineyards and so have complete control over all stages of winemaking.  Foremost among these is Alvaro Castro and his daughter, Maria.
 
This red is from their Outeiro vineyard which is farmed organically.  The vines are between 3 and 65 years old, with the older ones being planted as a traditional “field blend” where different varieties are intermingled in the vineyard.  This makes it impossible to determine the precise proportions of each variety, but the blend features approximately equal quantities of Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional, with smaller amounts of Tinta Roriz and Jaen.  Fermented in stainless steel, it is then aged for 8 months in second-use French oak barrels.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
A medium+ ruby colour, this is properly red.
 
It has a complex, lifted nose that’s mineral and floral rather than fruity.  The flowers are violets - a Touriga characteristic - while the minerals are old copper coins and a hint of fresh paint.  There’s some liquorice in there too, especially with air.
 
Dry and medium-bodied, this has earthy yet juicy flavours of black fruits and dried herbs.  There’s fresh, medium+ acidity and medium-weight well-balanced tannins.  Despite the 8 months of barrel-ageing, there aren’t any detectable oak flavours.
 
After the relative austerity of the palate, ripe sweet raspberries add a touch of luxury to the medium finish.
 
Assessment
 
This has lovely complexity and balance.  I particularly like the journey it takes, from minerals and flowers on the nose through herbs and earth on the palate to that sweet raspberry finish.
 
It will complement any dish where red wine is called for, and I could open one several times a week without getting bored by it.  It’s not showy, but it is satisfying.


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear medium+ ruby
Nose

Intensity medium+

Aromas mineral (copper penny, hint of fresh paint), floral (violets), liquorice (with air)

Development developing
Palate

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium+

Body medium

Tannins medium, well-balanced

Intensity medium

Flavours Earthy/dusty yet juicy black fruits, dried herbs
Finish

Length medium

Flavours as palate, sweet red fruits (raspberry)
Other notes
No detectable oak. Complex and balanced. Made for food.


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