Dao is one of Portugal’s most promising wine regions, but has had a reputation for rarely delivering on its full potential. This is slowly changing, as international wine media attention and improvements in production (and marketing) have helped the region to start shining. The top Dao wines are now some of the most highly rated in Europe, winning consistent praise on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Dao viticultural region lies south of the better-known Douro, source of Portugal’s most famous wine, Port. It takes its name from the Dao river, along which the majority of the region’s vineyards are located.
Surrounded on all sides by mountains, the Dão region is protected both from the direct influence of the continental climate, and from the chill and rains from the ocean.
This is high country, rising from 200 metres above sea level at its lowest spots to 1,000 metres in the Serra da Estrela, the high mountain range to the south and east of the region and slightly lower altitudes in the Serra do Caramulo range to the north and west. High altitude makes for cool nights, slower ripening, good acidity and aroma, and the potential for great elegance in the wines, both red and white.
Dão wines can usually age well. Vineyards, often very small patches of vines, are scattered at various altitudes amidst pine forests. Soils are very poor and at times heavily granitic, with some schist to the south-west. For red wines, Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro perform very well here, with the help of Tinta Roriz (also Known as Aragonez, or, in Spain, Tempranillo), along with the traditional Jaen (Mencia), Baga, Bastardo and Tinta Pinheira.
The star white grape is the Encruzado, making styles ranging from light, fresh whites to richer, barrel-fermented versions. Supporting white varieties are Bical, Cercial, Malvasia Fina, Rabo de Ovelha and Verdelho.