This region was given a protected status in 1990. It’s mostly sand and granite here with patches of clay, and growers are protected from wet coastal winds by the Serra da Estrela. So the growing season remains mostly dry and hot, with just enough rainfall in the winter months. We are sitting between 400 and 500 meters above sea level, and we’ve got an abundance of indigenous varietals, including what we think are some of the most exciting grapes on the planet, like Alfrocheiro and Encruzado.
Lagar de Darei
Lagar de Darei was founded in 1997 by Jose Cunha, and his son Carlos, who was gracious enough to guide us through the property. We ditched our lowly Sedan and hopped in his pick-up for some wholesome off-roading until we reached the vineyards. It’s a beautiful property that has been visibly molded for viticulture. Jose took the time (any considerable money) to demolish the side of a 30 foot cliff for the project, and his effort is paying off. Despite the lack of formal certification, Carlos as his dad maintain a principled dedication to organic farming practices, bolstering Darei’s wines as true expression of terroir.
Like Crasto, they’ve restored some old lagars here, and are embracing the long-held foot-trodding traditions of old. So it comes as no surprise that the grapes here are the tried and true varietals of the land: Alfrocheiro, Touriga Nacional, Jaen, and Tinta Roriz for reds. Encruzado, Bical, Sercial, and a few others for white. In tandem with the viticultural project, the Cunhos are restoring an old historic house repurposed for tourism in the middle of the estate, complete with a tasting room. The 2004 Reserva was an epiphany for all of us. Carlos insisted that he would drink this wine at his wedding. I may do the same.
Quinta do Boa Vista
Joao Tavares is as enthusiastic as he is enigmatic. He’s an active proponent of the Dao winemaking with a staunch belief in its history and people. The afternoon we spent at his estate, which looks rather like a small town, began with a game of pool. A hardworking man of leisure, Joao lunges glasses of unlabeled rose in our hands and dives into the kitchen to prepare dinner while we bemoan our lackluster billiarding. As we converse over several courses of traditional Dao cuisine while tasting through Joao’s wines, his philosophy becomes clear. He insists on showcasing the entirety of the region, the grapes, the food; all of which stem from the same land and the same history. Needless to say, within a few hours we were all drunk and ready to step out into the vineyard.
Joao uses indigenous grapes, but works his varietals selectively. Having formally studied viticulture and Bordeaux University, he tends to the cooler climate old world austerity in his wines, and for the better. After tasting his single varietal Encruzado we all grew an immense appreciation for the potential of the varietal. It’s sexy: taught with bracing acidity, leveled out with substantial phenolic ripeness and no shortage of minerality. This was easily our favorite white wine from the region.
And his reds possess a similar charm. Joao takes a particular liking to Jaen (Mencia) which he blends into all of his reds. The Syrah-like black fruit and meatiness of this grape translates directly to his blends, and make a stellar pairing with the gastronomic regional cuisine. The well-drained schist and granite refine and concentrate his wines. And it’s a little colder near Penelva than it is in the surrounding region so Joao’s grapes are able to get bright acid and fresh developed tannins resulting in remarkably ageworthy wines, particularly his 2003 Reserva (which we carry).
We finished of the evening popping a few more of his unlabeled experiments as the sun lazily came down behind the hills. Unforgettable Experience.
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