Dão is one of Portugal's most prominent wine regions, located just south of the famous Douro Valley. It has suffered from a bad reputation in the past but international wine media attention and improvements in production (and marketing) have helped the region to start shining. The top Dão wines are now some of the most highly rated in Europe, winning consistent praise on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Dão viticultural region is in the north of the country. It takes its name from the Dão river, along which the majority of the region's vineyards are located. The Dão is a tributary of the larger Mondego (Portugal's longest river) and several other rivers also flow through the region. However, only the Dão is significant enough to have the local DOC named after it – mostly due to the tough, crystalline granite that the river has carved its path through for many millennia.
©Wines of Portugal
To the north, south and east of the Dão Valley are the granite mountains of eastern Beiras. These are the same peaks which separate Beira Litoral (coastal Beira) from Beira Interior (inland Beira), and the Dão and Douro rivers. As a result of this protected position, the climate along the Dão is relatively mild, stable and consistent between vineyard sites. Naturally, this creates a homogenization of the region's terroir; whether this is a bad or good thing is open to debate.
The majority of Dão's quality vineyards are situated at altitudes between 500-1500ft (150–450m) above sea level. This elevation raises the vines out of the valley's shadows and towards all-important sunshine, allowing them to maximize their photosynthesis time during the day. It also increases diurnal temperature variation, helping the grapes cool down at night, which they must do to retain the acids so desirable in wine.
The biggest name in Dão wine production is Sogrape, the first wine company off the mark after Dão's restrictive wine laws were lifted at the time of the 1989 vintage. Sogrape also happens to be the largest Portuguese wine producer, having firmly established itself in the second half of the 20th century through the remarkable success of its Mateus rosé wine. The company invested heavily in the Dão area, most obviously at the Quinta dos Carvalhais (The Oaks Estate), which now processes several million liters of wine each vintage. The quinta ('farm' or 'estate') has only a modest acreage under vine and much of its wine is made from grapes bought in from the surrounding area, much like the old system created under the Salazar regime.
Arguably, the finest red wines from Dão today are deep reds made from Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional, two of the key grapes used to make port wines. Jaen and Alfrocheiro Preto are two other common red wine grapes here, along with large quantities of lesser grapes such as the memorably entitled Bastardo and the Baga that dominates plantings in Bairrada to the west. White wines are also produced in Dão, with the finest examples based on Encruzado, the region's most widely planted light-skinned grape variety.