by Fred McMillin
for May 12, 1998

Portuguese, Please


Portugal's region of the Dao [pronunciation: a nasal "downg"], isolated in its mountain fastness, might well be called the Shangri-La of wine countries. Skidding round 250 ice-bound spirals, we saw tiny terraced vineyards squeezed between precipitous fir forest and barren rock on the edge of deep ravines. Here indeed the vine has to struggle for its life, wringing its nourishment out of the granite which has crumbled under the influence of frost, rain and man power. Its wines compete for the title of premier Portugese table wine.

...Written in 1963 by the acclaimed H. Warner Allen, "The Wines of Portugal"

[I first visited Portugal five years after those words were written, and by then Dao had won the competition...it was presented everywhere as the country's best red.]  

The Rest of the Story

There's evidence that wine was produced in the Dao River Valley some 2,000 years ago. However, with that terrain, very little Dao was seen outside of Portugal until about 40 years ago. Today, the critical opinion is that Dao now is good and can become great. Warner Allen recognized that when, in addition to the above quote, he noted "the vintage red Daos I've tasted have persuaded me [that when made carefully] they can be honored amoung the fine vintage wines of the world."

Picking Your Dao

The bright future for Dao is promised by the Sogrape company's new Quinta [estate] dos Carvalhais—the brand is Grao Vasco [a famous painter]

...Hugh Johnson's "World Atlas of Wine"

The Quinta dos Carvalhais' red Grao Vasco is the leading Dao in Portugal.

...Larousse Wine Encyclopedia

So, we tasted the 1992.

The Wine

1992 Grao Vasco Dao, Bottle 497,043
Winery—Quinta dos Caravalhais, Nelas, Portugal
Tasting Notes—Smooth, velvety, medium body; made to support your meal rather than dominate it.
Importer—Evaton, Inc., Stamford, CT.
Price—$10 range


Dao is the name of a wine district, a river, and a town, Santa Comba Dao. What has that to do with Dr. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, the first modern head of Portugal to organize and promote wine exports? Why, he was a winegrower's son, born and raised in Santa Comba DAO!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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