Text João Pedro de Carvalho | Translation Jani Dunne
During our visit to the historic Casa da Passarella in Dão – with Serra da Estrela in the background – we literally rolled our sleeves back to work on this producer’s oldest vines. Right in the middle of the harvest season, we accepted the invitation to go see the amazing old vineyards that give birth to this company’s best wines. The field work was very insightful, and we had a very relaxing lunch, which enhanced two brilliant new releases. In the end, we did a vertical tasting of the Vinhas Velhas including two new products that will soon hit the market.
All we had to do was arrive, grab a pair of scissors, and walk down the roads of this picturesque Passarela village to get to the vineyards. An amazing scenery composed of three small plots of vineyards now over one-hundred years old, spread out through three little banks set upon mostly granite-rich soil, where white-grape vines cohabitate with red-grape vines. Varieties with names so unorthodox, they risk being forgotten; no matter how hard you try, you can only understand all the magic and specificity of such a vine once you’re in front of it and see the huge range of varieties that also live there. It’s a shame that Dão vines were in decay for a long time, and consequently, so was their quality. It was necessary for producers to heavily invest in planting new vines, which in a way helped separate or even withdraw the older vineyards.
The resulting blend of these old vines bares the soul of the region; the biggest Dão asset lies in its oldest vines, and we must thank all of those who put an effort and a lot of dedication into fighting to preserve them and to obtain wines that, if well-educated in the cellar, can reach very high quality standards. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised at how passionately oenologist Paulo Nunes speaks of his “babies”, who – according to himself – have taught him a whole lot. Based on what he learns from them, in his expert-creator hat, he has been able to interpret their teachings so well that the results speak for themselves. Trends apart, he knows how to create and educate great wines; you can tell that, with every harvest, his Dão da Serra [mountain Dão] style is tuned to a mix of tradition and modernity with elegantly exuberant wines of very defined fruit that combines determination, character, body, and a natural velvety feel that insists on showing from the early stages.
Already at the table, enjoying a traditional dish of Rancho, I had the company of the latest product: Enxertia Jaén 2012. A dangerously appetising wine that disappeared from the glass in two shakes – the combination of structure/freshness/juicy fruit results in a perfect combo at the table. This wine, this Jaén, completely owned a very enjoyable chat; it tasted marvellous and marked another beautiful social moment.
However, we still had the old vines in our heads when we performed the vertical tasting starting with the first sample of Vinhas Velhas 2008 and ending with the most recent, the 2012. The evolution of the profile was evident as the 2008 showed more presence of vanilla and toast as well as very plump and juicy fruit. The poorest performer, and entirely different from the rest of the tasted wines, was the 2010, whose sweeter notes completely clashed against the others. The most quiet at the moment is the 2011, which is still in a tidy-up phase, and is still shy, although in perspective, it’s already a gorgeous wine. They were the winners of this tasting, if I may call them so. The 2009 might well be the best to date, now with the 2012. Compact and seductive medium-bodied wines of good balance, and a little more rounding conveyed by the cask. Despite all this, it maintains the usual acidity/freshness found in wines of this region.
Lastly, the official presentation of the new wines. They had already been brought out and were still a little shy at the time, but they are now in their official attire. Included in the O Fugitivo range, Garrafeira white 2013, and the red Vinhas Centenárias 2012 thus emerge. Neither produce any more than 2000 bottles. These are two great wines that mirror the land that raised them. The red, as previously mentioned, collects determination, character, and body along with acidity and a taste of vegetal that conveys beautiful energy in the palate. It’s complex, deep, and at the same time still very young with a very similar profile to Vinhas Velhas 2012, although it has a bit more of everything. Now, the Garrafeira white is a flabbergasting wine; not easy and fashionable, its scent reminds you of older Dãos. Very driven, with strong tannins in the very dry finish, the wine desperately needs to rest more in the bottle. Electric, nervous, and most of all still very young on the nose and on the mouth, it was the best that this region has offered me in the last few years.
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