Dãoist? Meet Casa Aranda.



Daoism – also called Taoism – is one of the two great indigenous philosophical traditions of China. The word Dao roughly translates as, “path” or “way” (of life). In Portugal there’s a vinous version existing, although that is just as much a “way of life”Dão. I’m a Dãoist follower swearing loyalty to the powerful and yet so elegant wines mainly consisting of the queen of grapes in Portugal – Touriga Nacional.

Dâo’s topography indicates what you can expect in terms of style and structure of the wines. Surrounded by protecting mountains the vineyards are planted as if it were a crater and this keeps the vines protected from both the cold winds
from the west and the heat from the east. The vineyards are planted at 200 meters above the sea and up to 900 meters. The topography gives a natural high acidity in the grapes – an acidity enhanced by the granite dominated soil.

Once an area conservatively held by the co-operatives and arcaic regulations – today an explosion of smaller quintas taking over and leading the quality revolution of especially the Touriga Nacional grape.

As soon as a red wine shows a significant high acidity it seems mandatory to search for parallels with Burgundy Pinot Noir.

Yes, great Dão also has high acidity and a floral note to it but there the potential resemblance stops. We’re talking about a grape with such power and tannin structure it feels pointless to even call Dão Portugal’s Burgundy. Nebbiolo fine but Dão is Dão! Ok?

On its own Touriga Nacional can be a tough one to play with and that is why the grape often is backed up by Tinta Roriz (here called Aragonez), Jaen and Alfrocheiro.

I recently came in contact with, a for me, new discovery in Dão – Sociedade Agricola Casa Aranda. Located in Oliveirinha – Carregal do Sal the cottage of Casa D’Aranda ou Casa D’Alem originates from the early XVIII century and was founded by Augusto Carlos de Aranda.

The chosen varieties for the Casa Aranda wines were replanted in 1977 by the Agronomist and Landscape Architect Fernando Vaz Pinto, and in 2004 a new area for vines was renovated and replanted by the Economist Manuel Morais Soares who started an ambitious restoration of the estate.

Before tasting through five of the brands from the estate I could never have guessed that a white Dão would be the wine that surprised me most! A Dão Branco based on Encruzado, Malvazia Fina and Bical – for many totally unknown grapes for white wine production – are truly worthy of an international recognition. Next time at your local wine dealer, ask for an Encruzado (although they will look at you suspiciously).

Tasting notes on the Casa Aranda selection:

2009 Quinta de Picões Branco,
Vinho Regional Beíras, Casa Aranda (85 p)

The Picões Branco is the estate’s entrance wine and considering you can pick up a bottle at less than a fiver in Portugal it’s nothing but a great buy if you live in Portugal. A blend of traditional white grapes from the Dão: mainly Arinto, Fernão Pires and Borrado de Mosca (meaning fly droppings). The latter, by the way, is also known under the name of Bical.

Tasting note: Youthful nose with aromas of grey pears, hyacinth, wet rocks and herbs. Quite a nice mouth filler with notes of pears, flint, herbs and lime peel. Fine acidity. Delicious now but a year in the cellar will do good.

2006 Quinta de Picões Tinto,
Vinho Regional Beíras, Casa Aranda (85 p)

The red Picões is also representing the entry level of Casa Aranda. It’s classified as a Vinho Regional due to originating from the sub-region of Beira Alta. A blend of grapes, mainly Jaen, Aragonês, Alfrocheiro and Rufete.

The malolatic fermentation occurs in stainless steel vats, and then 30% of the lot is transfered to french and american oak barrels where it stays for 9 months. The rest of the wine is kept in stainless steel vats, and during the winter it is cooled down to 5 to 7ºC in order to stabilize and give it smoothness.

Tasting note: Some ago to this one but still quite youthful. Red berries, sour cherries, herbal and mineral driven nose. Sour cherries, tobacco and licorice in the taste. A bit thin, high acidity and dry taste. Fine balance and still fruit remaining. No need to drink right away but it won’t get better – just remain in the current status for a year or so. At less than five euro’s a fine buy for all Portuguese readers.

2009 Casa Aranda Branco, Dão DOC (88 p)

From Encruzado, Malvazia Fina and Bical. Hand-picked, transfered to the winery in little baskets of 15 kilo’s, completely destalked, crushed, and cold macerated before being transferred into stainless-steel tanks. Here fermentation took place under temperature controlled conditions. Once the alcoholic fermentation was completed, sulfites were added to the wine. A few days later transferred to other stainless steel tanks where it remained for a few months, undergoing just a ‘light’ batonnage.

Tasting note: Hello beautiful! This was a nice surprise. Young on the nose with grey pears, hyacinth, honey, humus and a refreshing lime peel scent. During the evening the wine evolves and shows fine concentration. Lovely sweet fruit on the palate with lime acidity, floral notes, pears, peaches and wax. Fine acidity backing up the sweet fruit. Will benefit from around two years of cellaring but with the fresh cod I had no difficulties fully enjoying this white Dão already now! Reminding me a bit of the Vinha Formal from Luís Pato. At less than EUR 7 in Portugal this is a must buy. Can I have a dozen please?

2007 Casa Aranda Dão DOC Reserva Tinto (90 p)

Based on classic Dão grapes; Aragonês (Tempranillo), Touriga-Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheiro. After fermentation half of the wine were transferred to French barrique’s and the rest remained on stainless steel. Ageing for 12 months.Then all of the wine was put in stainless over the winter before bottling. 6 months resting in bottle before release.

Tasting note: Classic Dão on the nose and I love it! Starting a bit funky with barnyardy scents and dried leather. Dark berries, oozing of warm wet rocks, violets, licorice and nicely integrated oak. It took some hours for this one to fold out and show the potential. Fine mouth feel, Dão acidity, violets, tobacco, licorice, compact tannins – yet mature – and good fruit. I love this ‘kindão’ Dão! Give it a furter two years to mellow. Great food accompanion. Around a tener in Portugal.

2007 Casa Aranda Dão Reserva Touriga-Nacional e Aragonês (91 p)

As the label indicates a mix of Touriga-Nacional and Aragonês. 15 days of skin maceration gives this one some stuffing. The malolatic fermentation begins in stainless-steel tanks and then 50% of the lot is transferred into French Oak
barrels, where it remains for 12 months. After barrel aging the wine is put into stainless steel tanks where it remains over the winter. Slight filtration before bottling.

Tasting note: No doubt a better wine than the ordinary Dão Reserva. More oak feel on the nose complemented by raspberries, blackberry’s, tobacco, humus, leather and violets. Compact tannins, still youtful and in need of further cellaring. Powerful, yet elegant, with balancing acidity. Long finish. The estate’s most modern wine I’ve tasted although I’ve heard rumours saying there’s a Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon mix available as well. Give this one three or four years. Retailing around EUR 12 in Portugal.

Winemaker António Narciso stands for a fine mix of tradition and modern thinking. Just what’s so typical for Dão at the moment with all its relatively new and ambitious names.

To my knowing they’re only available in Portugal at the moment but for importers looking for a Dão, the Sociedade Agricola Casa Aranda
should definitely be considered. One thing’s for sure – the white Dão Branco will be a hit -that I dare say!

All wines provided as samples by Casa Aranda.

Photographs from the estate generously provided by Casa Aranda.