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What our expert thought of Alvaro Castro Dão White




about this wine About this wine
 
Our mission at Decanting Club is to bring you new and exciting wines from all over the globe, so it would be inappropriate for us to single out one particular country as our favourite.  But it’s probably Portugal.
 
Portugal has a history of winemaking as long as that of its neighbours Spain and France, with wines that were once just as famous: Port, Dão, Madeira, Vinho Verde.  Like them it has a huge diversity of different wine styles: the result of centuries of experience working out which varieties to plant, how to tend them and how to make the wine in order to bring out the best from each particular combination of soil type and climate.
 
Also like them it has a wealth of local grape varieties – hundreds of them.  But here the differences start, because Portuguese grapes are almost completely unknown outside Portugal.  Only Touriga Nacional gets any recognition at all, and it still isn’t a name you’ll see on a front label in the supermarket.  Faced with this, most other countries would plant international varieties like everybody else.
 
Not the Portuguese, who have stubbornly clung to their traditional local blends (varietal wines are rare here – blends rule).  Cabernet and Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Pinots Noir and Grigio – you won’t find any of them.  Only Syrah has made any inroads at all, and even it will always be blended with something local.  This makes Portugal a treasure trove for drinkers looking for something a little different.
 
The problem is finding any.  Perhaps it’s the lingering shadow of Mateus Rosé, but Portuguese wine is so unfashionable that almost nobody stocks anything beyond a token Port.  This lack of an export market, combined with the weakness of its largely rural economy, brings us to the final reason we love Portuguese wines: they offer incredibly good value.
 
This wine is from a famous region, Dão, and it’s made by the producer most experts regard as the region’s best: Alvaro Castro.  Yet we can afford to feature it on Decanting Club; in fact it’s less expensive than most of our wines.  This wouldn’t be the case in Rioja or Burgundy!
 
As usual for Portugal, it’s made from a blend of weird and wonderful varieties: 35% Cerceal Branco, 25% Bical, 20% Encruzado and 20% Malvasia Fina.  These aren’t local names for more famous grapes from elsewhere: all four are native to Portugal.  Encruzado isn’t even found outside Dão.
 
The grapes come from two vineyards, both certified organic: Lameira and Saes.  They’re hand-harvested and crushed, then given several hours of skin contact before the juice is run off and fermented very slowly in temperature-controlled steel tanks.  The wine then matures on its lees for three months with frequent bâtonnage  (lees-stirring) to add weight and complexity.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
Despite that long skin contact, this wine isn’t deep in colour.  None of the varieties in the blend are deep-coloured and Cerceal Branco is especially pale.  Nevertheless, this pale lemon colour suggests that the skin contact took place at particularly low temperatures, which would also help to preserve the aromatic compounds extracted from the skins.
 
Those aromas are certainly evident on the expressive nose.  It’s very fresh but intriguingly complex, combining ripe citrus aromas of lemon zest and grapefruit with floral scents of honeysuckle, spice notes of white pepper and lemongrass and even some nutty, buttery hints.  It smells delightfully summery, but despite that obvious ripeness there’s a steeliness that promises that the wine will be dry and sharp.
 
So it is, but there’s also lots of fruit intensity here: powerful grapefruit and green apple flavours that are nevertheless almost swamped by the spicy and stony mouthcoating texture that really builds as the wine warms in the mouth.
 
This minerally mouthfeel continues into the long, saline finish, which also features some appealing grapefruit pith and bitter almond notes.
 
Assessment
 
We were looking for different and distinctive and we certainly found it here!  The skin contact before fermentation has paid off in that complex nose, which takes the floral and citrus elements often found in Portuguese whites like Vinho Verde and adds spices and stones.  The skin contact has also provided that bitter hint on the finish.
 
There are some similarities with other wines with long lees contact, like Muscadet and Tzakoli.  That stony mouthfeel and those nutty, buttery hints on the nose are from the lees aging.  But those wines are generally light in body, alcohol, scent and flavour, while this one has plenty of punch in all those departments.
 
I particularly like the way it conveys both ripeness and freshness, and manages to combine so many scents and flavours.  Skilful blending and winemaking have allowed each of the four grape varieties to contribute their best points, creating a wine that’s remarkably complex while remaining deliciously easy to drink.


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear pale lemon
Nose

Intensity medium+

Aromas ripe citrus (lemon/tangerine zest, grapefruit), floral (honeysuckle), spicy(white pepper, lemongrass), mineral (very stony), lees (nuts, butter)

Development youthful
Palate

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium++

Body medium

Intensity medium+

Flavours grapefruit, green apple, wet stones, spicy. Very textured leesy mouthfeel.
Finish

Length medium+

Flavours as palate, saline, grapefruit pith, bitter almonds  
Other notes
Unoaked. Lovely complex nose. Great ripeness/stoniness balance. Lots of leesiness, but probably no malo.


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