Quinta dos Carvalhais: latest releases & Manuel Vieira on his last vintage & Dão learning

Eng. Manuel Vieira (123)

Lunching at “equal billing” for vegetables Grain Store at the weekend (great veggie Scotch egg; braised cauliflower main a misfire) reminded me how much I enjoy Bierzo’s elegant reds.

The Spanish region focuses on the Mencia grape a.k.a. Portugal’s/the Dão’s Jaen. Which reminded me of a recent conversation with one of the region’s leading winemakers, Sogrape’s Manuel Vieira.

Vieira, who took charge of winemaking at Quinta dos Carvalhais in 1997, was at the vanguard of a Dão revolution which has seen the rise of individual estates (versus co-operatives) and greater recognition for the region’s premium varieties, notably Encruzado.

I caught up with him as he was about to put his last harvest to bed. He retires this year. From full-time winemaking at least. I asked him what he’d learned during his time at the cutting edge. His answer – “have no fixed ideas because, over time, I regretted some conclusions I drew, for example about Jaen. Now I love it, but before I had ruled out.” (Plus, he observed “consumer preferences, not just my own, change too).” So he concludes, “it’s always key to learn with others.”

Referring to the winds of change which have blown through the Dão, he says 20 years ago “the region was drowning.” Now the winemakers and viticulturists have “grown up a lot,” in terms of knowledge of different varieties, winemaking techniques too. “A new generation of winemakers look at the Dão differently – “the grape varieties haven’t changed so much, but we learned more how to use them – like Jaen.”

What’s more, he adds,  “the Dão is a Noah’s Ark of varieties. Everything is there. Everything is possible – every style. Then there is the ageing potential of the wines. It’s great to know wine will improve and develop in the glass.” For sure, he leaves the region in better shape. With wines in bottle which will be enjoyed for many years yet too. A most convivial legacy!

Here are my notes on his latest releases:

Quinta dos Carvalhais Colheita Seleccionada 2009

Of the traditional varieties, Vieira believes Encruzado is best. For white wines, only Encruzado and Verdelho are planted (in 1990) at Carvalhais. This example was aged on the lees in old barriques (no batonnage). It’s a complex, textured wine with honeycombe notes to its white orchard fruits and a tight, citrussy acid backbone which makes for a long finish. Very young; a briskly assertive wine. 14%

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2012

This powerful, fuller-bodied style was barrel fermented and aged in new French oak with lees stirring. The oak is worn well because, in the mouth, it shows a flinty, saline minerality and classic Dão resinous, vegetal notes to its white orchard fruits. Present but well balanced acidity lends vivacity and length. Very good. 14%

Quinta dos Carvalhais Touriga Nacional 2010

I much prefer Touriga in a blend but, if it’s flying solo, I reckon the Dão is the place to be. Though this deep plum wine has the variety’s exuberant floral, shading into bergamot, perfume and dark chocolate notes, its red and black berry fruit is bright and juicy. Ripe but present tannins bring subtle grip to this refined red. 13%

Quinta dos Carvalhais Reserva 2012

I love the waxy, rose petaled quality to the nose and palate of this deep purple blend of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. Youthful, vivacious pippy fruits of the forest and lively acidity animate the palate. A hint of Bergamot highlights the spicy direction in which it is heading with bottle age. Delicious. 13.5%

Quinta dos Carvalhais Único 2009

This flagship wine, made only in top years, always hails from the same vines. A unique parcel – Vinha da Anta – planted to Touriga Nacional. The site, which is also home to the megalithic monuments of Orca dos Padrões, has quite different soils, with some (moisture retentive) clay – a handy antidote to the hydric stress from which the Dão can suffer. No doubt it enables the fruit to hang for longer, with gains in concentration, flavour and tannin ripeness. Certainly, the fruit depth and purity of this Touriga is very good, its deep, dark chocolate notes too (this wine is aged for 12 months in new French oak). But this wine’s great strength is its channeling of those characteristics which single out the the Dão – a rub of spice (especially clove), pine needles, eucalyptus, even rosemary. The acidity is, as you’d expect, ripe but present, as is its powerful chassis of tannins. An imposing, very polished, layered wine; very young. Great potential. 14%

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