Tasting Dão Wines at Paço dos Cunhas de Santar

Ξ February 24th, 2010 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, PORTUGAL, Tasting Notes, Wine History, Wine News, Wineries |

It rarely happens in life that one enjoys a perfect day, a day of balance, when both the intellect and body are equally engaged, happiness and sadness, noise and silence in equilibrium; when one is free to reflect on past and present; a day one briefly glimpses what it might mean to be immortal; when one’s body is lightly transported between ancient and thoroughly modern frames of mind, all bracketed by a sun that rises and sets over a green world. Such was my first day in the Dåo, a wine region in the north-central of Portugal.
From a stay at the Pousada in Ourém, we three lucid dreamers, the brilliant Virgilio Loureiro, cinematographer Nuno Sá Pessoa Sequeira and yours truly, set out to visit the varied typologies of rock presses in Parada de Gonta, Prazias, Paraduço and Vale do Salqueiro (among others), some used until the 1950s. I shall save those extraordinary visions, there is no other word, for another post.
On this occasion I mean to parse the day into discreet, manageable episodes. The first shall be the lunch and wine tasting enjoyed at the solid tourist destination, Paço dos Cunhas de Santar, just outside of Viseu. From Casa de Santar’s Alminhas (little souls) vineyard, the site of the Vale do Salgueiro rock press, a portion of which had been broken to provide a foundation stone for a recent outbuilding, we drove to the estate, our group including our guide, Alberto Sampaio, winemakers Carlos Silva and Mario Rui Ferreira (a very interesting and energetic individual), among others.
Leaving recent political history aside, the provided literature describes Paço dos Cunhas de Santar like this:
Paço de Santar was built by order of D. Pedro da Cunha in 1609. A large ancient farmhouse has stood on this site for hundreds of years. It’s sole purpose was to produce olive oil, fruits and wine for the grand and prestigious Oporto markets. Today, Paço de Santar has 32 hectares of traditional Dão varieties and 5 z (sic) of olive trees.
It was opened to wine tourism in 2008. And its restaurant, open everyday, provided us a spectacular meal. Indeed, our elegant host, son of the Comte de Santar, winemaker Pedro Vasconcelos e Sousa, sat us down to the following menu.
To Start
Bread Toast of Mushrooms, Emulsion of Tomatoes and Cardamon
Main Course
Codfish in Maize Bread, Potatoes and “Migas da Beira”
Second Course
Roasted Goat, Rice of Mushrooms and Spinaches
Cheese Serra da Estrela, “Requeijão” and Sweet Pumpkin
During this beautiful repast we tasted and discussed many of the wines of the Dão. Below is the list, largely in the order sipped, and my brief thoughts, if warranted, about each.
2008 Cabriz Bruto, Quinta de Cabriz, a blend of Malvasia Fino and Cercial. Refreshing and light. My understanding is that this sparkler makes up 10% of their sales.
2008 Comdessa, Casa de Santar, 14% alc. This white wine had a full mouthfeel, a little heat, lightly acidic; its all new French oak was reserved. Almost a Viognier character.
2008 Paço dos Cunhas de Santar ‘Nature’. A ‘biologique’ wine -moving toward Biodynamic certification- it had soft, rounded tannins. Vanished in the back palate; a light oak influence.
2007 UDACA (União das Adegas Cooperativa da Região Demarcada do Dão) Touriga Nacional, 13% alc. Twelve months aging in mixed oak barrels. Light, fragrant bouquet, simple body, sweet, smoky, but short finish.
2007 Vinha Paz Reserva (Antonio Canto Moniz), Touriga Nacional; American and French oak. Sweet, full body, masive mid-palate, round tannins, very long finish- oak present.
2007 Quinta da Falorca, T-nac, Touriga Nacional, 14% alc. Gorgeous nose, full body, beautifully structured; no oak. Brilliant expression of Touriga. A truly world-class effort. (As a side note, after I had made my feelings about the wine known, I was approached by folks associated with the parent quinta. They explained that a certain Mark Squires, Robert Parker’s hit man inexplicably assigned to Portugal, gave T-nac an ‘89′. As silly as that is in itself, Mr. Squires also recommended that they grub up all their Touriga Nacional and replant with Cabernet Sauvignon. Truly terrible advice, a disservice to the grape and to the Dão patrimony.)

2003 Quinta das Roques. 13.5%. Touriga Nacional. Just a baby. Needs time. Very well structured.
2004 Quinta de Cabriz (Dão Sul), Escolha. 14% alc.
2004 Quinta da Falorca, Garrefeira, Old Vines 14.5% alc, Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro Preto and Tinta Roriz. Full mouthfeel, very firm tannins, rich mid-palate. Oak present, a little unbalanced, hot on the finish. Thoughtful wine.
Also served was the 2003 Quinta das Roques Reserve Blend. From the Pessegueiro (peach) vineyard. 13.5% alc. A seamless wine. From mid-palate to finish, a beautiful elaboration. Quite elegant.
2004 Conde, Casa de Santar 14% alc. Very elegant, balanced. Holds the alcohol well, rounded tannins. Good quality, if not particularly memorable.
1994 UDACA 12.5% alc. Touriga Nacional and other, unspecified grape varieties. Extremely satisfying. Very deep, rich and mysterious. I will be fortunate to taste this wine again someday.
I should also mention a 2009 Quinta da Falorca, Rosé of Touriga Nacional (not pictured). 13.5% alc. A little candified, but with good acid. I am especially fond of Tavel rosés. I have had quite a few. So, my palate would need to taste many more Portuguese examples of rosé before I could even hazard an opinion as to the quality. I will say that I did not find Quinta da Falorca’s effort compelling, mindful of the caveat above.
Lastly, we tried to enjoy a magnum of 1970 Dão Garrafeira out of Viseu. Produced by the Federacão dos Viticultores por Dão with the greatest hopes, sadly the wine was quite medicinal. Its day has passed.
We finished the lunch in very good spirits. Thanking our gracious host, we departed light-headed, with much work still remaining this day, about which more later. Resting with the setting sun, we would find our way to the restored 17th century Pousada Santa Marinha in Guimarães.
Update It has come to my attention that a couple of the wines mentioned above also made the reputable Sarah Ahmed’s list of Top 50 Wines of Portugal.


2 Responses to ' Tasting Dão Wines at Paço dos Cunhas de Santar '

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  1. Licete R. Costa Sequeira said,

    on February 25th, 2010 at 2:22 am

    Very good!

  2. Donna said,

    on February 26th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    The day wine critics start telling producers to replant their indigenous varietal vineyards with French vinifera, is the day they need to close their laptops, check their egos at the door and leave the industry.

    Ripping vines and re-planting the current “cepage du jour” because of the current stable of critics’ palates is a huge mistake.

    Omg, I could freak on about this forever.

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