The Cellar: Portuguese Basics

Thursday, April 06, 2017
Steffen Rasch, GoLocalProv Wine Writer

This week our wine journey takes us to Portugal whose presence in the global wine trade dates back centuries. While the country is traditionally known for its fortified wines of Porto and Madeira, it is Portugal’s table wines that in recent years have stolen the international spotlight. 

Portugal is a great place to look, especially for consumers who are looking for quality wines that also represent a good value. Two of Portugal's premier regions for red wines are Douro and Dão. While the Douro region is the home of the historic Port industry, winemakers also produce a slew of delicious table wines here. More than 80 different grapes are allowed to go into Douro wine, fortified as well as still. That said 5 grapes dominate the vineyards and make the base for most of the wines. These grapes are Touriga Nacional – the star grape of the Douro Valley - Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao and Tinta Roriz (otherwise known as Tempranillo). The Douro Valley where the grapes are grown is located inland. With arid conditions and a hot, dry climate the vineyards often yield ripe grapes making robust and full-bodied wines. It is not uncommon for the wines of Douro to spend considerable time in oak barrels. 

Dão is another region I urge you to check out. For a region that is located just 30 miles south of the Douro River, the wines of Dão are remarkably different. The main reason for this is the fact that the vineyards of Dão are surrounded by mountains, which results in a very different climate than in the rest of the country. Most of Dão's vineyards are located at high altitudes and are protected by the mountains from the extreme weather often experienced elsewhere. As a result Dão enjoys stable conditions throughout the grape growing season with warm days and cool nights allowing the grapes ripen fully but retain the much needed acidity. While the grapes grown here are pretty much the same as in Douro, the expression is very different. I have heard the wines of Dão being compared to those of Burgundy. While I wouldn’t go that far there definitely is a noticeable difference. 

This week’s two featured wines are the 2013 Feuerheerd’s Douro ($15ish) and 2013 Barão de Vilar Dão ($15ish). Looking at the wines side-by-side you can tell that the Dão is lighter in color. On the nose the Douro brims with ripe, bordering stewed dark fruits whereas the Dão is more red fruit driven with hints of spice. Both wines a have great, soft mouth-feel with the Douro being fuller-bodied. I prefer the Dão as it comes across more elegant, with more refined and defined characteristics. More defined acidity in the Dão leaves a sense of a fresher wine, but this is very much personal preference. I urge you to do the side-by-side comparison on your own. 

Cheers, 

Steffen Rasch is the Sommelier at Persimmon Restaurant in Providence and the proprietor of the Providence Wine Academy.

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