When most people think Portugal and wine, they think Port. But the wine media is giving more and more attention to Portuguese table wines. Historically the region focused more on quantity than quality, however, that’s no longer the case and more and more producers are turning out increasingly impressive wines. Luckily Wineseeker organised a tasting of wines from Dao DOC, not only that but a tasting presented by the renowned Peter Rumble formerly of Rumbles. More on Mr Rumble later. First, Dao.
Dao DOC is south of Douro and the home of Port. The viticultural region takes its name from the Dao river, the banks of which house the majority of the vineyards in the region. These vineyards sit on granite soils and are sheltered by mountains to the north, south and east creating a mild and consistent climate. The mild, consistent Dao is often described as making a homogenized style of wine. However, the best sites sit 200-900m above sea level and the combination of altitude and granite soils provide the wines with a desirably balanced natural-acidity.
The red wines from the Dao really shine. The key point of difference for all Portuguese wines is their use of indigenous varieties. You’ll not find Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon here, instead the quality reds are dominated by Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), two of the main Port varieties. More common (in reputation and availability) are Jaen and Alfrocheiro Preto. Single varieties White wines will likely be made from Encruzado, Bical or Arinto – the nicest thing I’ve read about most Portuguese whites is that they’re rapidly improving.
Prior to the tasting I happened upon a Dao feature on Wineanorak.com. Much of what I read was repeated by Rumble as he gushed about the wines he so clearly adored.
I have opted to borrow the elegance of wording from Jamie Goode at Wineanorak.com as a way of setting the scene for the wines that come next:
“Dão is sometimes likened to Portugal’s Burgundy. It’s not because of any physical similarity between the regions, but because of the style of wine. Like red Burgundy, good Dão doesn’t rely on power for its effect, but instead aims at subtlety and finesse, a cause helped by the good natural acidity of the grapes. These wines range from light, peppery and spicy to more full bodied and fruity, but there is almost always a lovely suppleness and brightness to the fruit. While rather rustic examples still exist, modern fruitier wines are becoming more common. But even these modern versions still retain their essentially Portuguese character, which is surely a good thing in a world of increased standardization and uniformity.”
Peter Rumble, or just Rumble as he’s called by many, is a Wellington institution. Rumbles Wine Merchant and Liquor Emporium closed its doors in February 2012. Although it was open for 28 years, the shop was gone before I even really knew it existed (remember, I’m not from here) but I heard many a whisper of his reputation as a pioneer in Wellington wine retail and a true wine enthusiast. To attend a tasting he was presenting was a treat. And the man did not disappoint.
Throughout the evening he would often disparage those who are interested only in making money and celebrates those who really seem to love making and drinking good wine. He described the wines from the Dao as elegant, food friendly wines that require an appreciation for subtlety.
After Rumbles Wines closed, Rumble continued for a while with an import business, bringing in the wines that were on offer among others. Since opting to move away from importing and distribution activities many of his brands have being picked up by Mineral Ltd. Unfortunately some of Rumble’s former brands are without a champion to continue to praise their good graces in New Zealand.
The tasting was held at Wineseeker in Wellington.
Afros Vinho Verde 2010
Vinho Verde translated is green wine, or young wine. It is designed to be a simple, early drinking wine. However, this producer took something seen as white and fizzy and treated it more seriously. The result was a richer texture and a more intense flavour profile than you see in most Vinho Verdes.
Opening with plenty of the soft white fleshiness of peaches and apricots, the nose rounds out with a sweet almond-meal nuttiness. Fresh with a definite spritziness to it and a clear, strong line of acidity running the length of the palate, the wine is sweet and honeyed with a mineral zinginess to it. What starts as soft, fresh and fruity, ends with a sharp citrus finish with a lingering lemony freshness.
Quinta dos Roques Branco 2011
This wine is defined by its acidity, crisp and racy, but well balanced. Where the Kiwi palate is accustomed to a more bracing acidity this wine is rather delicate comparatively. Sweet white florals and stone fruits layer fresh citrus zest and an earthy undertone. Bone dry, with a healthy amount of a rather broad spectrum of fruit on the palate helps to carry the acid. The finish is impossibly, mouth-wateringly long.
Quinta do Correio Tinto 2010
A correriro is a farm or outpost in Portugal. The wine is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Jaen and El Frochero Rocha. This is a glugging wine. As we sip from our delicate wine stems, Rumble goes looking for a pint glass. Rustic and unpretentious, this wine doesn’t have much in the way of fruit, but there’s a brambly quality that’s rather pleasant and makes for easy drinking. A rather thin body with plenty of earthiness, a bit of smoke and touches of red berries. The wine is wrapped up with a hint of greenness on the finish, but you get what you pay for.
Quinta das Maias Tinto 2009
This wine and the next sit at 450-600m altitude, leading one to expect a wine that is richer, fuller and gutsier – however, they both show the opposite. Both wines are made from the same varieties, differing only by the percentages of each variety used in the blend, resulting in hugely different styles.
This wine very pretty and delicate, however, that prettiness is rather scuffed with dirty red fruits and blackberries, singed violets and a real earthiness. The wine is so very dry with a lushness and richness on the palate as well as a really good spiciness. For the area, the wine is quite restrained.
Quinta dos Roques Tinto 2009
Finally we get something really different. The wine is a really interesting mix of burnt cherries and tar with chocolate, capsicum and a really clear cedar character. This wine is firmly structured and would benefit greatly when paired with the right foods. A wine like this can make you seriously reconsider your meat-free approach to eating. The wine itself is very dark, in colour and character with a herb-crusted gaminess to it.
It’s amazing just how different these two styles can be – same area, same varieties, just different blending percentages.
Quinta das Maias ‘Flor de Maias’ 2007
Rereading your notes after a tasting can be illuminating. For this wine I have: different, unexpected, yum. Yum is underlined. The nose ranges from quite gutsy tar and liquorice to delicate red florals, red cherries and blackberries and oh so much chocolate. The palate shows more in the way of red fruit and berries along with a forest floor quality. The wine is dry, rich and classy.
Rumble thought the glassware, an ISO tasting glass, wasn’t doing the wine justice. He asked that we pour our samples into big Burgundy glasses that were swiftly produced. The wine was transformed, showing a far lighter profile with a candied sweetness and more white chocolate notes. It retained the structure of a wine made with 85% Touriga Nacional but was more ethereal. A rather grand wine that I want to see more of.
Quinta dos Roques Alfrocheiro 2007
Bad hair day for this one, the wine was rather closed off and so it was hard to get more than a general sense of brambly, jammy fruits, a definite spiciness and clear oak treatment. The tannins on this wine were slightly grainy but they suited the brambly, oaky character and weren’t at all out of balance. This wine was more about weight, textural richness and bold tannins than a complex flavour profile. Worth a second look.
Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional 2010
The flight finishes with a big wine. Prominent oak with more than a wisp of smokiness, hugely aromatic with a nice, rich mix of red and black fruit, a hint of sweet marzipan. Nice body and texture with a good palate weight, it’s proud and confident without being too big or obnoxious. The finish brings with it another swirl of smokiness. The colour of this one was simply outstanding, purple from the core all the way up the meniscus where it just starts to pale.