Posted by: tomciocco | June 20, 2014


During the more or less dicatorial rule of Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (1933-1974) a great deal of damage was done to Portuguese wine culture, and it’s a situation which the whole country is still trying to recover from, and no one region more than the north-central Dao. In a horribly misguided attempt to harness the winemaking industry in Portugal for the greater glory of his twisted view of the nation, a huge chunk of the winemaking in Portugal was forcibly and very clumsily collectivized, and where The Douro further north to some degree escaped this grand disruption because of its hilly and often harsh terroir, the flatter terrain and milder climate in the Dao made it the perfect target for forcing quantity over quality, and sadly there is still too much slapdash wine being made in this region, an area which was once considered to be Portugal’s finest. The last two decades or so in Dao has seen a significant reversal of this long retrenchment, and this evening’s producer is one of the winemakers leading the charge back to restoring the region’s reputation as a source for truly fine wines.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: per capita, Portugal might have more native grapes than any other wine-producing nation, and the Dao might be the epicenter for this vinous multiplicity, and this diversity goes for both red and white wines. Tonight’s wine was a white, and this bottling holds very much to the tradition of making wines from blending multiple grape varieties. The Portuguese are some of the world’s most masterful blenders and indeed there are very few Portuguese wines – red or white – made from a single grape variety.

This wine, made by the great Alvaro Castro, is a cuvee`, like all of Mr. Castro’s wines, that beautifully balances a modern, clean and sleek drinkability derived exclusively from traditional Dao varieties and with all of the soul and warmth for which very traditional Portuguese winemaking is so well known. The specific blend in this case is 40% Cerceal (which is not to be confused with the staple Madeira variety Sercial; they are completely distinct varieties despite their homophonous handles), 40% Bical, and 20% Encruzado.

So if all you know about Portuguese white wine is the mass-produced tart and sprizty but ultimately wan and flavorless Vinho Verde (this is not any sort of knock on Vinho Verde as a whole, just on the innocuous plonk that crowds too many shelves), try and locate a bottle of this stuff or any other product from Mr. Castro or any other quality producer of Dao wine; they’ll ably demonstrate why the Dao was once considered to be the Bordeaux of Portugal, and why it can, and in my opinion eventually will be again.

I matched this sophisticated white with an appetizer of tuna, potato, olive and mint fritters followed by a gloss on the Alentejo region classic dish pork with clams, more specifically, Manila clams, linguica sausage, white kidney beans, yellow grape tomatos with wine, bay leaf, parsley and cilantro together with some good, fluffy Portuguese rolls to sop up the sauce.












Alvaro Castro Dao Branco 2011

Convivial nose of lemon, honeydew melon, yellow cherry, ginger, ground coriander, fresh herbs, toasted grains, and a touch of lily, all underpinned by an ultra-fresh minerality. The palate is medium in body with elegant and expressive flavors of comice pear, peach nectar, with a smooth and well balanced texture punctuated by a fine and nervous acidity. Long and complex subtly creamy almond and apple finish. Very nice stuff.



  1. Tom, whenever you open your restaurant or YouTube cooking-and-wine-matching channel, I’m going to be first in line for a resto reservation or a subscription for the video service.

  2. Thanks, Tom. I’m actually working on an extensive Italian food and wine pairing app. I’ve still got a ways to go (it’s turned out to be the eighth labor of Hurcules) but I’ll definitely let you (and everyone) know via the blog.

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