Dao is sandwiched between the sunny, dry, relatively hot landscapes that drive Douro’s bold fruited, full bodied, highly alcoholic styles and Alentejo’s even hotter climates that amp  wines up a couple of notches. Logically, you’d expect Dao wine styles to be hotter than Douro and less so than Alentejo. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dao is much wetter and cooler in winter, greener and more temperate in summer. As far as Portuguese climates go, Dao feels more like it belongs up north in France (see climate below).  

The region’s wines are dominated by two grape varieties, the iconic red, Touriga Nacional, and a first class white, called Encruzado. Historically these have played fundamental roles in the region’s two core blends, but over the last two decades each has emerged as a single varietal in its own right.

Dao’s white blends (called Branco) are sophisticated, gastronomic styles that can be as long lived as Dao’s red blends. I have tasted Dao whites from the 1960s and 70s recently, and they are extraordinarily complex and remain remarkably fresh for their age.

Although Encruzado is the mainstay of white blends, with Malvasina Fina, Bical, Cerceal (Madeira’s Sercial), Verdelho, and more than a dozen other varietals playing important supportive rolls. These secondary grapes also have good potential as single varietals, but so far most haven’t been fully explored for this possibility.

Dao’s flagship red blend (called Tinto) is generally constructed around Touriga Nacional (40-80% ratio) generally supported with smaller portions of Alfrocheiro, Rufete (Tinta Pinheira), Jaen (Spain’s Mencia) and/or Tinta Roriz (Aragonez, Spain’s Tempranillo). To a lesser degree Trincadeira (Tinta Amarela), Baga, Tinto Cao, Bastardo and more than a dozen lesser known grapes can also play into the mix. As with the whites above, few of these grapes have been singled out for their potential as mono-varietals.

The proportions often echo the ratios found in older, inter-planted field blends dating from over a century ago. Each sub-region within Dao tends to have a particular bias for which grapes are most commonly used to support Touriga in the blend.