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Friday Retro-post: a look at mature Encruzado with João Paulo Martins

In today’s retro-post I share with you my report on the tasting which brought home to me Encruzado’s excellent ageing potential.  So if you’re thinking of forking out on any of the dozen top Encruzado drops I recommended on Wednesday, it will give you an idea about how Encruzado develops in bottle and how long you might expect it to last.  The post was originally published in 2010.  Intrigued?  Check out my extensive tasting notes on Caves São João and Bussaco Palace Hotel.

João Paulo Martins (pictured) is one of Portugal’s most influential wine writers (he publishes the annual guide Vinhos de Portugal), so it was interesting to see which wines he selected for this homage to Encruzado, a grape that is not only native to the Dão, but also pretty much unique to the region.  Martins explained that, though Malvasia Fina plantings are higher, Encruzado is the white variety about which the Dão’s producers are most passionate.

In line with the region’s tradition of blending, it wasn’t until the 1990s that single varietal Encruzado wines emerged.  For Martins, in the last ten years these wines have really started to develop more personality which, I guess, is a reflection of increased vine age (for newer block plantings), not to mention producers’ greater experience working solo with the variety.  The tasting certainly revealed a diversity of style and, most strikingly, the (acid) structure which underpins this variety’s ability to age.  It also demonstrated that, in common with lots of Portuguese white varieties, Encruzado is not about overt fruit.  Its complex, ageworthy, mutable and mineral wines put me in mind of Loire Chenin Blanc, so it’s no quaffer, rather a wine to savour and enjoy with food.

Here are my tasting notes, kicking off with a couple of samples from the 2010 vintage:

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2010 (Dão DOC)

This callow youth, a vat sample, is still quite elbowy, with estery/“tanky” banana notes wed to tropical citrus fruit.  Lots of acidity here, very citric and grapefruity.

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2010 (Dão DOC)

A barrique sample, this is quite different.  The oak shapes and grooms the structure and, with the controlled oxygenation of barrel ageing, it shows rounder vegetal notes, though there’s spiky citrus too and a smoky/flinty quality.

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2009 (Dão DOC)

Quite tight and smoky/flinty on the nose with a resin edge though, in the mouth, it’s bright, citric and focused with good structure and length.  A stony minerality to the finish.  Very youthful.

Condessa de Santar 2009 (Dão DOC)

A blend of Arinto (Malvasia Fina in the Dão), Serceal and Encruzado, part aged in barrel with batonnage.  Spicier than the Carvalhais on the nose and palate, its lemony, citrus fruit threaded with a smoky/flinty quality, almost clove oil.  The batonnage brings a touch of creaminess and savoury leesiness to the finish. Lots going on here though it has the balance and structure for long term ageing.

Adega de Penalva 2008 (Dão DOC)

A cinnamon spice quality to the nose with bright quince and a lovely limpidity to the mid-palate.  The finish seems a little tinny/metallic – for Martins it is in a transitional stage.

Munda Encruzado 2007 (Dão DOC)

A very pronounced struck match, sulphidic/toasty note is a little distracting for me.  A shame because the wine has terrific vitality and, aged in 500l barrels, is subtly oaked. The winemaker told me she prefers to err on the side of caution rather than risk oxygenation and reckons the reductive quality will blow off with time.

Quinta da Pellada 2006 (Dão DOC)

Fermented and aged in stainless steel this blend (80% old vine Encruzado) is aromatic and fresh with a hint of toast/terpenes on the nose.  Aged on the lees with batonnage it shows creamy fruit salad in the mouth with livelier citrus notes.  There’s a vegetality here too, but more about mouthfeel than flavour profile because the wine shines brightly.

Quinta da Pellada Reserva 2005 (Dão DOC)

A deeper colour with a more developed, rounder profile, vegetal and very nutty but nonetheless lively and long, with an attractive salty  minerality.  A powerful, muscular even wine, quite different from the other wines shown.  For Martins it’s intriguingly un-Dão-like, a quality which he admires.

Quinta dos Roques Encruzado 2001 (Dão DOC)

The Roques’ Encruzado provided my introduction to the variety.  Deep yellow/gold, with developed pot pourri, savoury, nutty and spicy notes on nose and palate it nonetheless retains a degree of freshness and minerality, though it strikes me as lower in acidity than the others.  I reckon Martins was spot on in his recommendation to have this wine with cheese given its savoury pong!

Caves São João Porta dos Cavaleiros 1985 (Dão DOC)

Deep yellow it’s very spicy and mineral on nose and palate with clove, flint, smoky mineral and toast notes.  Very mineral in fact, just lacking a little flesh for balance and drinking pleasure, though it’s certainly interesting.

Centro de Estudos de Nelas Branco 1971 (Dão DOC)

Bronze glints tell you this is the older wine as does the flavour spectrum: pot pourri, bracken, cinnamon spice, talc and moldy orange peel/pith.  What’s exciting is its tremendous charge of limey acidity – this has phenomenal structure, real oomph.  With a whopping 9 g/l of total acidity, Martins reckons this could outlive the renowned 1963.

Incidentally, Purple Pagers can read Julia Harding’s tasting notes for the 1963 Centro de Estudos de Nelas Branco and other vintages here.

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