Dão is a DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) in the northern province of Beira Alta. Often called the “Burgundy of Portugal,” the Dão is known for producing wines with elegancy and complexity.
Wine production began here when monks settled in the isolated region to escape the havoc of the Spanish Inquisition. There they grew grapes and produced wine relatively undisturbed from the 15th through the early 20th century. Dão wine sales took a leap in the 1860s when the Douro was infected with phylloxera, and the Dão began supplying wine to the rest of Portugal and to France. Its geographic isolation prevented phylloxera from arriving until 1883, by which time they had discovered the solution of grafting vines onto resistant American root stock.
By the start of the 20th century, Dão wines were highly regarded throughout Portugal, and the region was officially recognized as a Região Demarcada in 1908. Its reputation began declining in the 1940s, however, when the Salazar regime mandated that growers sell their grapes to regional cooperatives who produced large volumes of sub-par wine. Portugal’s application to the European Union in 1979 prompted authorities to overturn the cooperative mandate, and the Dão – like many areas in Portugal – is undergoing a quality renaissance.
Nature reigns supreme in the Dão. Hiking, canoeing, and bicycling are only some of the activities available in this picturesque region. Because of the mountainous terrain, vistors can see ancient villages that appear relatively unchanged over the past centuries due their geographic isolation. These villages retain traditional rituals and festivals, making a Dão a history-lover’s paradise as well.
Typical Dão cuisine is hearty and reflects the region’s mountainous terrain and cold winters. It features hare, wild boar, goat, sausage, and the famous DOC Serra da Estrela soft sheep’s cheese.
The Dão produces red, white, rose, and spumante wines, but over 75% of total production results in dry reds. White wines use the Encruzado grape more than other regions and the subsequent wines are zesty but have enough body to withstand barrel fermentation. Supporting white varieties are Bical, Cercial, Malvasia Fina, Rabo de Ovelha and Verdelho. Spumante wines from the Dão are similar in style to Cava and Oregon sparkling wines.
Here, red wines are the real celebration, and pair particularly well with the local cuisine. The Touriga Nacional grape is native to the Dão region and is the primary grape in blends. Touriga Nacional here is not as ripe and extracted as it tends to be in the Douro, and the resulting wines are more restrained, sharper and more floral than their northern neighbor’s. Other grapes that are used for blending include Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro, Baga, and Jaen. International varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon are also allowed, up to 40% of a blend. Both red and white wine is limited in supply, making this region one of rather high demand.
Dão wines are classified as Reserva, Garrafeira, Nobre, Nobre Reserva, and Nobre Garrafeira in ascending order of aging and ABV requirements. Wines at the level of Nobre and above must contain a minimum of 15% Touriga Nacional.