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Elin’s Wine Pick: Discovery In Portugal’s Dão Region

Alvaro Castro and his daughter Maria. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Skurnik Co.

Alvaro Castro and his daughter Maria. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Skurnik Co.

Portugal continues to be a source of fine wines at exceptionally reasonable prices. When I think of the country’s Dão region, though, I usually think red wine. So this smooth, citrusy white, 2012 Alvaro Castro “DAC” Dão Branco, really surprised me. It has a lovely combination of fragrant crisp fruit and intense mineral tastes, with way more quality than its price suggests. It was one of my favorites among a group of white wines from the Dão region that I sampled recently.

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week

2012 Alvaro Castro DAC Dão Branco

Price: $14

Region: Dão, Portugal

Grape: 40% Bical, 40% Cercial, 20% Encruzado

Alcohol: 13%

Serve slightly chilled:  Grilled cod or bluefish with garlic and lemon

Two more Portuguese wine selections:

» Dry red charm of 2009 P + S Post Scriptum

» Vibrant white 2009 Niepoort Tiara

Located in the heart of Portugal south of the Douro, where the country’s famous ports come from, the Dão is one of the oldest wine regions in the country and Alvaro Castro’s family roots go back to the 16th century. A former civil engineer, Castro took over his family’s two quintas (estates), Saes and Pellada, in 1980 and now makes wines in collaboration with his daughter Maria. A major personality in the Portuguese wine world, he is immersed in many winemaking projects including a joint wine, Dado, with the ever-inventive Dirk Niepoort.

The Dão used to be dominated by cooperatives because of restrictive wine laws, but in the past couple of decades a revolution has been going on, and there’s significant investment from private individuals who have upped quality. The region is often described as Portugal’s Burgundy because of the style of the wines, which favor finesse and subtlety over power. That’s certainly true of Castro’s wines.

DAC brand is Castro’s inexpensive entry level brand — there’s a red, too — but the granite soils and the altitude at which the grapes are grown lie behind the wine’s distinctive character just as they do for his lineup of more expensive wines. Many of those carry the Quinta da Pellada name.

Castro is passionate about local grape varieties — Portugal has hundreds — and the DAC white (branco) is a blend of three. Lemony Encruzado, the most planted white grape in the region, is very fragrant. High acid Bical is usually used in blends and contributes brightness and notes of apricot. Cercial develops smoky hints with age.

Few wine lovers seem to be familiar with the wines from the Dão region, but it’s filled with bargains well worth discovering — like this 2012 DAC Branco.

Top photo: Alvaro Castro and his daughter Maria. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Skurnik company.