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Encruzado – the Burgundy beater? Twelve top drops

Quinta dos Carvalhais: granite, pine & mountains – the Dao

Burnishing its credentials as among the country’s top white grape, Encruzado – Dão’s emblematic grape variety – featured heavily among the sommeliers’ picks at Wines of Portugal’s Sommelier Quest earlier this month.  Part of its appeal lies in its Chardonnay-like ability to show off winemaking techniques – the use of lees, batonnage and oak.  A number of the sommeliers compared it with Burgundy, as I have too.  

Although winemaking (and no doubt vine age and terroir) results in an exciting array of styles (as does blending), I reckon Encruzado is more outspoken than Chardonnay – a bigger personality with some character traits which can never be subdued.  Which is interesting because, according to Beatriz Cabral de Almeida, Encruzado is “very neutral before you ferment it, so you have to have faith.”  But faith is amply rewarded – Carvalhais celebrated its 25th anniversary this year with vertical tastings and, she observed, the 1992 was “very, very good.”  Especially with age, the Dão’s/this variety’s resinous notes and firm acid backbone truly shine.

Below you’ll find my notes on Sommelier Quest’s most popular example, Quinta do Perdigão Encruzado 2014, followed by some particularly thrilling examples which I’ve recently tasted.

Quinta do Perdigão Encruzado 2014 (Dão DOC)

This small certified organic estate favours a hands off style and the wines are always characterful rather than couture – it’s about showing off the terroir, not the winemaking. This relatively broad yet structured expression of Encruzado has perfumed quince and a stony, cool, round minerality to the palate.  Underlying acidity lends persistence, while savoury lees and hints of red apple peel (this wine sees a bit of skin contact) add complexity and texture. 13%

Dão Sul Casa da Santar Reserva  2014 (Dão DOC)

This blend of 50% Encruzado, 30% Bical, 20% Cerceal Branco was one of the first Encruzado/Encruzado blends to impress me as Burgundian.   Not just for the oak and batonnage, but also its lovely minerality and white peach (Bical?)  Complex notes of lime shred/oil, linden and lanolin emerge on a long, savoury, very persistent finish with pillowy lees – nice mouthfeel.  Very stylish.  13%

Quinta das Maias Flor das Maias White 2012 (Dão DOC)

The “Flor das Maias” label is used for successful experiments with the (certified organic) grapes from Quinta das Maias.  This wine is a blend of 80% of Encruzado and 20 % of the estate’s other white varieties (Malvasia Fina, Cercial, Barcelo and Verdelho/Gouveio).  Luis Lourenco told me that the aim here was “to study the ‘strength’ of Encruzado to recover the fruit, balance and minerality following a long ageing (14 month) in new French oak.”  The wine was bottle aged for two years in bottle to allow the oak to integrate and its Dão freshness and elegance to shine. Lovely minerality on the nose which is complemented by a touch of flinty oak which follows through on a lemony (fresh and waxy), flinty, smoky, gravelly palate.  This would appeal to lovers of White Bordeaux.  But true to the Dao, there is a succulent vegetal character – prickly pear, artichoke – to the ‘fruit’ – ripe for sluicing with minerals.  The finish has impressive line and length.  On day two it remains fresh as a daisy – super-poised.  13.5%

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado White 2014 (Dão DOC)

Me and my sommelier group met with Beatriz Cabral de Almeida at Carvalhais (pictured top).  Terroir, grape(s), skilful blending and use of winemaking techniques produce wines of considerable sophistication. Carvalhais Reserva and Reserva Especial were included among the top picks of the Sommelier Quest tour.  The blending process starts from the point of picking – blocks are harvested separately for this wine –  for acid backbone and body.  The ferment starts in stainless steel then 80% of the wine completes its fermentation in new French oak barrels from 5 different coopers.  It was aged on lees in these barrels for 6 months with batonnage.  A firm nose with smoky oak signposts that this is a well-structured wine.  In the mouth, creamy ripe/poached pear fruit, white asparagus and, to the finish, creamy, pillowy lees admirably keep the oak in check.  Paddling away beneath the swan-like graceful fruit, an undertow of mineral acidity brings line and length. I tasted it this month during the Sommelier Quest tour and in December at home when, on the second day, it showed great purity of pear fruit and a nutty nuance to its white asparagus.  We reckoned turbot and beurre noisette would be a delicious match.  13.%

Quinta dos Carvalhais Reserva White 2011 (Dão DOC)

The winemaking for this blend of 71% Encruzado, 29% Verdelho is quite different.  It was fermented in stainless steel then aged for about 36 months in 225 litre French and Russian oak barrels of varying ages.  This wine saw no lees contact or malolactic fermentation.  A confected banana note blows off pretty quickly. The prolonged ageing in oak results in a spicier, nuttier wine with an unusual hint of cardamon (and more typical fennel/aniseed notes, especially on the finish).  It is very complex in the mouth and I really enjoyed eking out this wine over three days when I tasted it in December, then re-visiting it this month. In December, it was surprisingly buttery given it did not go through malo; this month, the butteriness seemed to have evolved into a brazil nut creaminess/incipient oiliness – very textural.  Going through, mineral, very persistent acidity teases out layer and length, revealing nougat, honey, resin, white peach, bruised apple, grapefruit and orange peel notes which build in the mouth.  The finish has a saltbush salty/vegetal quality – really piquant.  A very gastronomic, full-bodied but persistent wine with surely a long life ahead.  For Cabral d’Almeida, in contrast to the Encruzado, this is a white wine for meat not fish because of its complexity and power.  She revealed that she always tastes the wines with food prior to bottling – “if they are good with meat and fish, they are ready to bottle.” Kid – a popular local ingredient – is a favourite.  13.5%

Quinta dos Carvalhais Reserva Especial Branco NV, 2015 bottling (Dão DOC)

This wine is a blend of 2005 and 2006 vintages, with 57% Encruzado, 21% Verdelho, 7% Semillon and 15% mixed white varieties. It is the second release of this unique non-vintage blend (bottled June 2015).  The first was blend of 31% Encruzado, 15% Verdelho, 15% Semillon, 39% mixed varieties and the 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages; it was aged for an average of 8 years in barrel (225l). This second, 2015 release is a lovely wine if not as breathtaking as the Decanter gold medal winning maiden release – a former Wine of the Month on this site.  The first had a thrilling knife-edge acidity, but perhaps it’s also partly about the style being less surprising/impactful second time around…?  At any rate, the key point is this is still an excitingly complex, very delicious wine.  My fellow judge at Sommelier Quest final – Ronan Sayburn MS – compared it to a mature Rioja Vina Tondonia.  I subsequently had the opportunity to confirm his observation at Xavier Rousset MS’ new wine-focused restaurant, Blandford Comptoir.  It sells the 1998 Reserva Blanco by the glass – nice!   Carvalhais Reserva Especial Branco is a yellow gold hue.  Very nutty, oily going in – praline and brazil – with nougat and butterscotch, bruised apple and creamier, peachy orchard fruit.   As it opens up pithy lime, lemon peel and dried herb notes emerge; hints of orange peel and clove too. The Encruzado’s persistent, salty acidity keeps this full-bodied wine moving – it lingers long in the mouth.  In December, my sample had a smoky Islay Whisky note to nose and finish which detracted from its purity.  But I didn’t find this in the sample tasted during the visit or the one presented in the Sommelier Quest final.  A meal in itself.  14.5%

Caminhos Cruzados Teixuga Branco 2013 (Dão DOC)

The hefty bottle signals the ambition behind this wine.  As does the involvement of Sogrape’s former Chief Winemaker in the Dão, Manuel Viera, who makes the wines with Carlos Magalhães.   This new producer’s flagship wine comes from Quinta da Teixuga, a 30 hectare property in Nelas, with vines up to 50 years old.  Aged for 19 months in new French oak barrels with batonnage, then 12 months in bottle, this 100% Encruzado is yellow gold with a generous burnish of toasty oak to nose and palate.   A bold, modern style, there is no doubting its palate presence.  This is a powerful wine.  But it has great varietal typicity and complexity too, with resin hints, lemon peel, lemon verbena and mineral undertones to its silky white peach.  Ripe lemony acidity makes for a lingering finish with toasty oak which, well chosen for this wine/region, favours spice over sweet vanillin.  Impressive.  13.4%

Nuno do Ó Druida Reserva Encruzado 2013 (Dão DOC)

I like Druida wines very much.  This Encruzado comes from 30 year old vines at 500m.  The grapes were fermented then aged in French oak (20% new) for 10 months, then spent 8 months in tank prior to bottling.  The cool year shines in the lemony, mineral, fresh nose and palate, whose frisky acidity animates quince, crisp apple, lemon/lime rind shot through with hints of aniseed, resin and struck match. The oak brings nutty, creamy notes – a touch of beurre noisette – to the finish.  With terrific energy coursing through its veins, it wears both oak and alcohol lightly.  Seamless, super-drinkable and complex.  What’s not to like.  13.5%

Antonio Jose Madeira Branco 2014 (Serra da Estrela, Dão)

This wine is a field blend of around 20 native grape varieties (the vines 50 to 120 years old, at 500-600m); Siria, Fernão Pires, Bical and Cerceal comprise around 70% of the blend. Young gun Madeira’s style is austere and mineral, for some perhaps a bit hair shirt.  If I compare this firm, dry, mineral wine to the sweetest mineral water ever, it is a compliment.  Its subtly lemony fruit is thoroughly mineral-sluiced, the finish tight and super stony, a touch saline, with texture – chiselled minerals.  A riff of aniseed and spicy tomato plant give lift and complexity.  In pursuit of this terroir translucency, this wine was naturally fermented and aged in stainless steel with batonnage.  Bearing in mind 2014’s rains, it has remarkable purity.   12.1%

Casa da Passarella O Oenólogo Encruzado 2014 (Serra da Estrela, Dão)

Another favourite producer whose whites particularly excite.  This wine is no exception.  It has a vegetal nose and round, rolling yet very persistent palate with salty ripe green olive, creamy white asparagus, hints of fennel and celery salt.  Ripe (pineappley?) acidity teases out a long, mineral, limpid finish.  Its minerality and limpidity seem to build with time and air.  By day three, this wine seems to shed a little puppy fat and its structure and subtler notes – the celery salt and minerals –  showed brilliantly.  With beautiful balance, this Encruzado feels very unpushed (or pulled), seemingly taking its time like the winemaker.  This wine underwent a long pre-fermentative maceration followed by a long slow ferment in used 600-litre French oak casks. It was aged in cement tank and a small percentage of cask on lees with batonnage.  13%

Casa da Passarella O Fugitivo Garrafeira Branco 2013 (Serra da Estrela, Dão)

Named after the WW2 fugitive Burgundian winemaker, Monsiuer Hellis, who planted Pinot Noir at Passarella, this field blend of, among others Encruzado, Uva Cão, Bical, Terrantez, comes from Casa da Passarella’s oldest vineyards.  The wine began fermentation on skins and completed its fermentation in used 600l casks in which the wine was then aged for 12 months (then for 12 months in bottle).  Marching to the beat of different varieties this wine is a roller coaster of flavours and sensations – it’s demanding in an exciting, serrated way, drier of expression than the Encruzado and more piquant.  It’s as if its flavours of lemon peel and pith, lime oil and oilskin notes have been magnified through the prism of its emphatic rock salt crystals.  Punchy stuff, the oak (though used and 600l) quite present at the moment.  I’d stash this away for a few years and reckon it will last a good many more years.  12%

Casa da Passarella Villa Oliveira Vinha do Províncio 2012 (Serra da Estrela, Dão)

Another field blend of Encruzado, Uva Cão, Bical, Terrantez et al from a select few grapes from a particular old parcel.  The wine began fermentation (natural) on skins in cement tanks and completed its fermentation in used 600l casks (1/3 new). Vinha do Províncio was then aged for 9 months in cask, with 3 months’ batonnage.  The new oak reveals itself in a tightly coiled nose with poised oak.  In the mouth a rapier-like attack of citrus – lemony fruit, pronounced lemon verbena and a prickle of green (prickly pear?), gets the mouth watering.  Going through, the palate miraculously segues into a more textural, nutty, savoury leesy zone.  The delivery slower, more deliberative.  The finish – dry and firm – shares the marked saltiness of O Fugitivo.  On day two, the green prickle has developed into a more vegetal, spicy character (attractive).  By day three, it’s starting to really hit its stride, revealing nutty oak – some oak sweetness – green olive, rock salt, spice and fennel layers to its succulent but powerful mid-palate of melon, lemon and stone fruit.  Powerful and complex, it has heaps of character.  Very good indeed, with a terrific backbone of acidity. Again, great ageing potential.  12.5%

 

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