Winemaker António Narciso who was my host during an entire day in the Dão region consults for a good dozen estates, but two rise above the rest Quinta Mendes Pereira (which I’ll write up tomorrow) and Quinta das Marias. The latter was founded in 1991 by Swiss insurance mogul Peter Viktor Eckert, and actually was Narciso’s first serious engagement in 1998.
When speaking about the different style of the quintas he consults for, Narciso mentioned that it is as much derived from the terroir as from the economic capacities of the respective owners. At Marias, no expense is spared in reaching for top quality, including the one expensive bit of winemaking: oak. In the spotlessly clean cellar (although we were in the middle of fermentation) there was a notable collection of top-drawer barrels, including from French wood but coopered in Portugal by J. Dias and Gonçalves, of which both Eckert and Narciso spoke very highly. Interesting.
Two whites are made here, both from Narciso’s favourite grape, Encruzado. The basic 2011 was very tight and mineral with that cold-fermented bitterish pithiness that is the signature of Narciso’s white wines. In a totally different style, the 2010 Encruzado Barrica is a big powerful Burgundy style with a rich soft flavour and a slightly salty touch; a good 11€ wine, but imperatively needs 3 or 4 years in the bottle to mellow.
The basic red is called Lote 2010 and only sees used oak; a good and typical Dão if more polished than many of its counterparts. The 2010 Reserva TT is a blend of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Touriga Nacional and sees some of the foot-treading in granite lagar basins that gives Portuguese wines so much individual character. A very big wine, with plenty of fruit but dominated by savoury, meaty and chocolatey notes, it overdelivers for 14€ retail and sums up the Quinta das Marias style: rich concentrated wines that are less rustic, perhaps more ‘international’ than many others Dão wines I tasted on this trip.
At the top of the range there is the 2009 Touriga Nacional Reserva, a 15% alc. wine with a big spicy nose and even more concentration; the finish is tannic and bitterish as if biting into cocoa pods. With outstanding length on the palate this is another winner at ~20€ and although very ageworthy, it is reasonably approachable today thanks to the supple tannins of the 2009 vintage. As impressive as this wine is, I’d single out the 2010 Alfrocheiro, a brilliant take on this difficult grape (only 1200 bottles are made). With a very transparent colour, this is a Pinot Noir style although the spicy meaty notes and overall rusticity made me think of old-vine Carignan. It is more vibrant and tense than the other wines here, and is really lovely (12€).
Quinta das Marias is distinctive for its style, the wines seeing a bit more oak than your average Dão (Dão wine is dominated by co-ops, and largely consumed locally, which is why the oaky style never really dominated here). Peter Eckert enjoys a big following in Switzerland, so logically the wines are more cosmopolitan in style, although they surely taste of Dão, and the varietal Alfrocheiro shows they can taste very local indeed. An estate to watch.
My trip to Portugal including flights, accommodation and wine tasting programme was sponsored by Quinta Wine Guide.