Exploring the Underrated Wines of Portugal: Douro and Dão
There are many interesting wine regions to explore in the remarkably diverse country of Portugal. Among them, in the north, we find Douro, Dão and Bairrada, and in central and south Portugal are Alentejo, Ribatejo and Estremadura.
This enchanting country, famed for its endless Atlantic coastline, historic-yet-cosmopolitan cities, and dramatic rugged landscapes, has much to offer when it comes to sourcing high-quality, good value wines. If you are new to Portugal’s quaffable perks, the Douro, and nearby Dão region, are a great place to start.
The vast Douro valley extends from the city of Porto to the eastern border. It is an area of outstanding beauty; sculpted by the Douro river, which cuts through the rugged, mountainous valley in dramatic twists and turns, lined with steeply terraced vineyards and splashes of magic scenery on its banks.
The Douro has long been renowned for its Port wine, but is only in recent years that the region it’s making a name for itself with its excellent still wines. The winemakers are shaking things up at a tremendous pace, and carving out a reputation for themselves due as much to their blends of interesting native grape varieties as to their often astonishingly good prices.
While the Douro region does produce white wine (typically mineral, crisp, light-bodied whites) the star of this area is without a doubt the dry, rich, and complex Douro red, or tinto Douro. These wines have the structure and tannins of a good Bordeaux, with a far more attractive price tag. Douro wines are bursting with character, and as up to 60 different grape varieties are permitted in the blend, it is a playground of diversity in terms of flavour profile and personality. In general, these wines are lush, densely fruity, earthy, and with enough acidity and tannic backbone to be put away for a few years.
Touriga Nacional: The Cabernet Sauvignon of Portugal
The Touriga Nacional grape is native to Portugal and is head honcho when it comes to port production. It is also a key player in the dry wines of Douro and Dão. This variety is known for its body, fruit, tannin and alcohol. If you are fond of full-blooded, opulent reds, this is the grape for you. In recent years, it has been lauded as a spectacular dry red wine grape — densely-coloured, and brimming with flavours of plum, blackberry, and violets. A predominance of Touriga Nacional in the wine blend will bring bold tannins and aging potential, and a séjour in oak will coax out vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg favours. In terms of food pairings, rich, fatty foods will balance a mainly Touriga Nacional wine, but it is important not to overwhelm the more delicate floral notes of the wine with an overly flavoured-rich dish.
Moving south from Douro lies the wine region of Dão, which did not produce any particularly interesting wines until relatively recently; in the last 20 years the area has come on in leaps and bounds. Remarkable value and consistent quality can be found there right now, and the winemakers are improving every year. The wines produced tend to have a higher acidity and a stronger herbal character than their Douro counterparts. The wines are, in my experience, rarely profound, but very often delicious, balanced, and food-friendly.
This organic wine is an elegant, harmonious expression of the Touriga Nacional grape at a great price.
This densely-coloured ruby wine offers flavours of blackberries, spices, chocolate, and violets, and tastes well-balanced, with soft tannins and good structure. This charming wine tastes fantastic on its own, and is also very food-friendly — nicely accompanying things like game, red meat, and mature cheeses. Drink at 16ºC – 18ºC.
Naomi Ní Chatháin is a WSET-certified wine specialist from Co. Clare. She studied French and Philosophy in NUI Galway before pursuing a master’s degree in Wine Tourism (or ‘oenotourisme et projet culturel’) in Nimes.
Naomi loves French culture, and has lived in different parts of France over the years.
Her other passions include the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer, the music of Bob Dylan, and road trips across America. Naomi is also a professional baker, and founder of NaomiBakes.com.
She is a firm believer in eating delicious, healthy cakes every day, and has a small subscription-based healthy cake kit delivery business.