Inside the mountainous region in the Center of Portugal, usually between 400 and 700 meters high, sits the Dão Wine Region. The region is one of the oldest established wine regions in the country and is now a ‘Denominação de Origem Controlada’ (DOC or ‘Controlled Denomination of Origin).
It encompasses the cities of Viseu, Mangualde, Nelas, Tondela, Sátão, Penalva do Castelo, Santa Comba Dão and Carregal do Sal, and is the home of the Touriga Nacional vine, one of the best known grape types used for Port wine.
Protected by the mountains from the Atlantic winds, giving it a temperate climate, and with a soil rich in schist and granite, the region produces one of the best wines in Portugal. It is thus known as the ‘Portuguese Burgundy’.
The Dão wines are gastronomic wines, with an exceptional acidity of complex and delicate scents. It fits perfectly with the local food, like Serra da Estrela cheese or goatling, due in part, to its complexity, elegance, balance, and maturity.
There are many great wines from the Dão region, with them being awarded in several international wine contests, such as the ‘2014 Wine and Spirit Competition.
It is said that Nature was particularly generous to Dão. So enjoy the incredible flavors of these wines and find out what this region has to offer!
History of Dão Wine
As usual, when it comes to wine in Portugal, the story can be traced back thousands of years, with the Phoenician traders and the Roman colonists bringing wine and grapes to the region. This cultivation kept on going even during the Moorish period and after they left, the Christian monks kept this historical legacy.
In the 19th century, the Dão region had a mostly international market, exporting most of their wines, and these grapes were used throughout Europe to cure the vine diseases, such as phylloxera until the region itself got affected.
But the Dão as a specific wine region is considered to have been born by the hands of the aristocrat and winemaker João de Sacadura Botte Côrte-Real, known as “the most enlightened viticulturist of his generation”. He understood the uniqueness of the region and wanted to create a separate wine region there. The modernization of the winemaking process and the increased standards of the region’s wine were all fruits of Côrte-Real’s endeavors.
The region was officially instituted in 1908, on the province of Beira Alta, as a ‘Região Demarcada’ (Demarcated Region). It was the first of this kind that produced non-liquor wines in Portugal, and the second demarcated wine region overall. In 1990, it became a DOC, with specific rules for its production and protection.
In the 1940s, as a way to improve the region’s wine quality and promote a sense of national identity, Portugal’s Dictator António de Oliveira Salazar ordered that only co-operatives were allowed in the region. These would have exclusive rights to buy the region’s grapes and for the whole winemaking process. The private businesses could only buy the finished product.
This, however, created stagnation as many of the co-operatives started making inferior quality wines, having un-hygienic practices, and producing less wine for sale. This made the regions of Douro and Alentejo have to compensate for this shortage of wine, improving their own production, keeping their quality, and attracting the interest of wine experts and the world’s wine consumers.
In 1979, however, with Portugal adhering to the European Union, these rules had to be withdrawn. Now, there are new wine ventures in the region, creating a rebirth on one of the most known wine regions of the country.
Wine tourism is starting to become famous in the region, with the Dão Wine Route. The ‘Solar do Vinho do Dão’, the headquarters of the Wine Commission, also works as a visitor center to the whole region and offers wine tastings of Dão wines.
Region and Subregions of Dão
The region has around 20.000 hectares of wine production spread around 376.000 hectares of land. It spreads through the districts of Coimbra (in Arganil, Oliveira do Hospital and Tábua), Guarda (in Aguiar da Beira, Fornos de Algodres, Gouveia and Seia) and Viseu (in Carregal do Sal, Mangualde, Mortágua, Nelas, Penalva do Castelo, Santa Comba Dão, Sátão, Tondela and Viseu proper).
The soil is predominantly enriched with granite and schist, usually of low fertility. The vines are usually made on terrains with an altitude of around 800 meters, even though they grow in a larger quantity at around 400-500 meters.
The terrain is very hilly, and is surrounded by 3 large mountain ranges (Serra da Estrela, Serra do Caramulo, and Serra da Nave) that protect the region’s climate from outside influences, like the humidity from the Oceanside and the winds from the interior. The climate is, thus, good for wine production. It’s temperate but cold and rainy in the winter and very hot and dry in the summer.
The rivers of the region, the Dão, Mondego and Alva, also adjust to the region’s terrain, sliding through the mountains and valleys.
There are 7 subregions within Dão, which you can see on the bottle label next to the word ‘Dão’. The climate changes a bit in each of these regions creating different styles of wine with their own characteristics. These are:
- Serra da Estrela
- Terras de Azurara
- Terras de Senhorim
Types of Grapes and Wine in Dão
There are many grape types in the Dão region, like the Bastardo, Barcelo, or Terrantez, but the main ones are:
- Touriga Nacional: the type considered the noblest one, which produces full-bodied wines with a good alcohol content, intense aroma, and are good for aging. It produces red wine.
- Encruzado: the noblest grape type when it comes to white wines. It has a good alcohol content as well, with complex, fresh, and relatively dry scents.
- Alfrocheiro Preto: it creates wines with a fine aroma that gets more and more complex with time. It’s a type that produces red wines.
- Jaen: it has a regular alcohol content, with intense scents of very ripe fruit. It has good quality and soft tannins and is a red wine grape.
This diversity is due to the qualities of the region’s soil and climate, as well as the production techniques and know-how of the people that produce it. This creates a very good quality wine that is appreciated throughout all of Portugal.
80% of the region’s production is of red wines, explaining why most of the main grapes are red wine grapes. Also, the DOC regulations mandate that at least 20% of the production has to be from the Touriga Nacional grape.
You can find almost all types of Dão wines:
- Red: These wines are ruby-colored, with an intense ripe fruit aroma and a complex and delicate flavor. They are full-bodied and with exceptional acidity, having very good potential for aging and a velvety taste. Red Dão wines tend to be very tannic because of their long period of maceration during winemaking.
- White: The citrine yellow color of these wines and their fruity, complex, and delicate aroma will immediately call you for a sip. Their balanced acidity and fresh and smooth taste with a lush ending will make you want another one. Back in the day, the white wines from this region were over-oxidized and full-bodied, but modern winemaking techniques have helped produce more fresh, fruity, and perfumed wines.
- Rosé: Recognizable for their pink color, these light wines with a balanced acidity are known for having a very fresh and persistent taste and a floral and fruity scent that will make you feel calm and relaxed.
- Sparkling: The bubbly from Dão can be of any of the above colors: either ruby, citrine, or pinkish. What defines it is its fine bubbles, as well as its fruity smell and fresh, balanced, and persistent flavor. Together with its elegant texture and good acidity, this is the perfect recipe for a sparkling wine with high sophistication.
There are also different designations for the top wines, such as ‘Dao nobre’ (noble Dao), for the top reserve wines, and ‘Garrafeira’, which requires, for red wines, at least 2 years aging in oak and at least 13% alcohol content, and for white wines, 6 months aging in oak and 12% alcohol content.
Dão Wine Suggestions: Best Wine in Dão
Based on the contest “Best Dão Wines” of 2020, organized by the Regional Wine Commission of Dão, in which 41 wines were awarded, these are some of the awarded brands:
- Casa de Santar
- A Descoberta
- Adro da Sé
- Quinta dos Carvalhais
- Tesouro da Sé
- Adega de Penalva
- Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha
Best Wine Tour in Dão
Visit the rich Viseu district and learn about its history and heritage! Go around the region and visit cathedrals, churches, Roman baths, and museums. Ride a cable car to the mysterious ‘Cava do Viriato’ and discover the ancient tradition of winemaking of the place while having a taste of the amazing Dão wines.