Port has had a global reputation for centuries, but the rest of Portuguese wine has lived in its shadow – outside the country at least. These days it is seen as a place where lots of quality, interesting wines come from – and usually at a decent price. But why stop there? Some producers want to make the best that they possibly can, whatever it costs to make.
One such producer is Quinta dos Carvalhais in the Dão region. Dão is about a third of the way down Portugal, surrounded by (clockwise, from the north west): Vinho Verde, Douro Valley, Távora & Varosa, Beira Interior and Bairrada. The Dão is somewhat insulated from both the cool coast and the warmer interior by a ring of mountains. Altitude results in warm – but not blazing hot – days and cool nights, keeping flavours intense but fresh.
Owned by the Guedes family since 1988, Quinta dos Carvalhais covers 105 hectares in total of which 50 are planted with vines on poor granite soils. The grapes planted are local Dão varieties (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Tinta Pinheira for reds and Encruzado, Assario, Gouveio, Bical and Cercial for whites).
The Quinta dos Carvalhais Dão Encruzado (white) is a seriously good wine with a premium price tag; it has an RRP of €32.99 in Ireland which is among the most expensive Portuguese table wines I’ve seen. At the Liberty Wines portfolio tasting in February I had the chance to taste the Quinta dos Carvalhais flagship wine Único with an RRP over three times that of the Encruzado at €107. Is that a crazy price or is it justified? Are Vega Sicilia going to complain about the name? I had to try it…
Quinta dos Carvalhais Único 2015
Único in Portuguese means “single” or “unique” – perhaps this is the number one table wine in Portugal? It is only made in exceptional years, and I believe that this 2015 is the third bottling after 2005 then 2009. Like many Portuguese wines it’s a blend, and consists of all the varieties planted on the Quinta: 88% Touriga Nacional, 6% Alfrocheiro, 2% Jaen Tinto, 2% Tinta Pinheira, 2% Tinta Roriz.
To improve on the already-high quality of their other wines, winemaker Beatriz Cabral de Almeida picks special plots which are then harvested and vinified separately, with great care. Alcoholic fermentation is temperature controlled at 28ºC (not that hot for reds) over eight days followed by 20 days maceration. The must is then transferred into new French oak barrels for 12 months’ maturation. Each batch is tasted several times over the whole process to see if the barrel will be included in the final blend.
Although now over four years since harvest, the 2015 Único pours a deep purple, hinting at relative youth. The nose is like finding big bramble bushes in a pine forest, red and black berries with pine needles on the floor. The smoky French oak is also notably present (those barrels given a decent toast I reckon). The palate is rich and concentrated, with firm tannins and striking acidity giving plenty of structure.
This is a wine made to last the course; it’s very nice to drink now but I can see it opening up considerably over the next five to ten years, and then lasting for another ten after that. So it is worth the price tag? Perhaps, is my cop-out answer. Without many previous vintages to assess its longevity is still not 100% proven, but I think it will make a name for itself in the future. It’s more than I spend on a bottle of wine, but if I could justify it as an investment for my twins who were born in 2015 then that might just work…
- ABV: 14.0%
- RRP: €107
- Stockists: wineonline.ie