on Portugal's Dão region
Castro – Quinta da Pellada/de Saes
note: for a more recent review of Alvaro's wines, see
heard a lot about Álvaro Castro, and tried his wines on several
occasions, so I was looking forward to meeting him (right). I
don’t like pigeonholing people, but if I were the sort of person who
did, I’d have problems with Álvaro. Immediately, I could tell
he’s unconventional, perhaps a little shy in a nice sort of way, but
also focused enough to want to make his sort of wines, without feeling
the need to compromise or please the critics.
We piled into his wonderful old Toyota Landcruiser (vintage
c. 1980) and headed off to see the vines. Alvaro has two Quintas: Saes
is where he lives and the winery is located, but the more dramatic is
Pellada, on a hillside with wonderful views and a fantastic old
building that he’s restoring from a semi-ruined state. This rather
grand house is remote (there’s no power or mains water) and substantially
proportioned, and will be wonderful when it’s finished.
The landscape here is a little different to the rest of Dão.
We’re getting close to the rugged Serra d’Estrela national park,
and the vineyards aren’t planted in clearings in the pine trees as
they are so commonly elsewhere in the region. There’s a wildness to
I like it.
Afterwards it’s back to Saes where Dirk Niepoort is
waiting. He’s just got back from Spain and has brought some food to
prepare for dinner, which he’ll be cooking. Dirk is a very good cook
indeed, but first it’s tasting time. Dirk and Alvaro have been
working together on Dado, a Douro–Dão hybrid wine, so we’re off
to the cellar for some fairly extensive barrel tasting of 2003 wines.
First, a couple of old vine lots from Pellada. The first,
in a Taransaud barrel, is intense, supple and vivid. The same wine
from Francois Frères (Vosges and Allier) barrels is subtly different,
with more spice character. It’s clearly a very fine wine, though,
combining elegance and richness well.
A 100% Touriga Nacional from a Vicard barrel is spicy and woody with
a chocolatey richness. A Syrah (labelled 'Shirra', see right), also from Vicard, is lush with a
spicy, chocolatey richness and lovely perfume. A Touriga in Vicard is
amazing, with an explosively herby, aromatic, spicy nose. This is
quite special. The next barrel is the same Touriga Nacional but it’s
even better (this wine will go
under the name of ‘Carousel’, apparently, although I may have
misheard this): it is currently in a new Francois Frères
barrel, but previously this wine had been in a new Vicard barrel.
It’s spicy, structured, woody and intense. Dirk is very keen on
this. Excited, even.
The next wine is a pretty, approachable blend of Touriga
and Tinta Roriz, and then we try a dense, structured wine that’s an
old vine blend from Pellada. Finally, an oddity: two barrels of a
still-fermenting botrytised white wine, harvested in mid-November.
This comes from up near the Spanish border from a friend’s vineyard.
It’s weird but very interesting.
Overall, these 2003s are exciting wines with lots of
potential and character. Some of them will be very special indeed.
Before dinner we tried some finished wines. They are as
follows (on to next page).
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