The Dão wine region is in the midst of a renaissance. New winemakers are creating some spectacularly elegant and complex wines, which are renewing the region’s sobriquet as “the Burgundy of Portugal.” Located in the province of Beira Alta, in an area defined by the Dão and Mondego rivers, the Dão is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in Portugal. Monks fleeing the Spanish Inquisition settled here during the 15th century and began planting vineyards, especially with the native Touriga Nacional grape but also with other varieties, including Alfrocheiro Preto, Bical, Encruzado and Tinta Roriz.
Although it is known as a red-wine region, the Dão has recently been producing crisp and fragrant white wines with the Encruzado grape. And sparkling Dão wines resemble Spanish Cavas in style.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Dão wines were esteemed all over Portugal, as well as in Brazil, Britain and other countries. The region entered a long period of decline, however, after the regime of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar ordered grape growers to sell their crops to cooperatives, which produced a high volume of low-quality wine. After Portugal became a democracy again in 1974, the cooperative mandate was abolished. This was the beginning of a new emphasis on high-quality wines in the Dão. In 1990, the region became a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) appellation. Although it is known as a red-wine region, the Dão has recently been producing crisp and fragrant white wines with the Encruzado grape. And sparkling Dão wines resemble Spanish Cavas in style. Wine tourism is not as developed in the Dão as it is in the Douro Valley, but more and more quintas, or estates, are now set up to receive visitors. Be sure to check in advance to see if appointments are necessary for tours and tastings. Here are my favorite producers:
Carregal do Sal
Located between the Mondego and Dão rivers, Quinta de Cabriz is one of the most famous of the region’s wineries, with 95 acres of vineyards surrounded by pine trees. The heart of the estate is a 17th-century manor house and chapel. The wines produced here, some of the best in the Dão, display balanced acidity and delicate aromas. Visitors can sign up for highly professional tastings or discover the wines at the estate’s excellent restaurant that serves traditional dishes like codfish fritters, roast goat, and curd cheese with pumpkin jam.
Penalva do Castelo
Sixteen miles outside of Viseu in Penalva do Castelo, this stunning 18th-century baroque manor house turned hotel has beautiful formal gardens. The quinta has been producing excellent wines for centuries, and the best way to sample them is with a cellar tasting or over a meal in the Casa da Ínsua Restaurant. Don’t miss the Serra da Estrela cheese produced on the estate or the delicious apple jam.
Award-winning Dão wines made with Touriga Nacional grapes are the highlights of a visit to this very beautiful wine estate and stud farm. Guided hourlong tours of the Quinta Madre de Água vineyards are available on thoroughbred Lusitano horses. Cheese tastings are also available.
Portuguese businessman Celso de Lemos, whose companies, Abyss & Habidecor and Celso de Lemos, produce exceptional home textiles, had a dream of making great wine when he planted 70 acres of vineyards on a 1,000-foot-high plateau surrounded by olive groves in Silgueiros near Viseu in the early 1990s. Thanks to the skill of winemaker Hugo Chaves, Quinta de Lemos’ 2011 wines were all rated more than 91 points by Robert Parker. Since 2014, the estate has had a Michelin-starred restaurant, Mesa de Lemos, set in a striking low-slung modern building by architect Carvalho Araújo and designer Nini Andrade Silva.