Posted by: tomciocco | January 29, 2011


What little is commonly known about Portuguese wine regions is limited to the Douro (Port and dry wines, in that order), Vinho Verde,  and maybe Alentejo or even Madeira, but Dao (pronounced like “dow”, but up in the nose), despite its size and history, is often an afterthought. Some of this obscurity is well-deserved. Under the dictatorial Salazar, much of Portuguese winemaking was forcibly converted into cooperatives, and for one reason or another, Dao (apologies for the lack of the til over the “a” throughout – one day I’ll figure stuff like this out…) really took it on the chin, and languished longest on the mat. Thankfully, lots of time has passed since Salazar was deposed, and lest the viticultural cooperative get a bad name, let me uninhibitedly reveal that tonight’s wine was made in a bona fide co-op winery, and so are lots of other great value wines.

Dao is situated just south of the renowned Douro, but for all their geographical proximity, these two regions are more dissimilar than alike. The Douro is mostly represented topographically by steep, terraced vineyards, set in a torturously undulating river valley that is sun-baked and scorching hot in the Summer months.  Dao on the other hand is sweetly hilly, cooler, and a bit rainy, making for more elegant and svelte wines. Tonight’s wine, like LOADS of wines from both Douro and Dao, is a blend that is dominated by the big and brooding Touriga Nacional grape variety, which despite its close association with dry Douro wines, and as the principal Port grape, is likely native to Dao.

But what undoubtedly works for massive, fortified wines like port, when put into a dry format, for my palate becomes a bit  heavy and overblown, with the intense Douro heat accentuating thick, pruny fruit notes, and assuring low acidity. Touriga really does seem more at home – less exaggerated –  in more temperate Dao, and this wine demonstrates this perfectly (the balance of the blend here is Tinta Roriz and Alfrocheiro, by the way).

I served this handsome bottle with a Portuguese-inspired fried empanadas, stuffed with chick pea puree, cilantro and Maine shrimp (tail meat only of course) and then Hake Portuguese style: layered with thin-sliced par-boiled potatoes, lots of parsley, bathed in a pimentao\nutmeg\ lemon cream sauce and then baked until lightly browned. And a green salad.

Soc. Agricola de Casal de Tonda “Grilos” Dao Tinto 2008

Very deep black/purple color with deep garnet at the rim. Mildly exotic, somewhat perfumy nose of plum, strawberry, tea, and spice-baked apple. The medium to full body is smooth and elegant but with a notable chewiness, and a nice acid/tannin balance. Clean and intense mixed berry, melted bittersweet chocolate, and hints of caramel flavors saunter across the palate, before the warm, moderately long finish. A wine whose modest sins are almost entirely ones of omission…



  1. It’s ok that you don’t know/haven’t googled how to make a tilde as it doesn’t display properly on websites and would only make your blog look messy.

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