What I like about Dao is that it hasn’t sold out its roots. It hasn’t given itself over to the New World ‘spoofulation’ that has drained much Spanish wine of its Spanishness. Luckily, Robert Parker never took much notice of Dao, so it never felt compelled to whore its styles out to the more Baroque aspects of Parkerism. And just as fortunately, very few hired-gun Australasian ‘flying winemakers’ have set foot in the place, and so they haven’t imposed the sterility of supermarket quality control and the inevitable dumbed-down, consumer friendliness that comes with it.

Luckily, Dao has managed to keep all its assets in place. It hasn’t sold out its old vineyards full of indigenous grapes or its wine styles that evolved out of its sense of ‘place’ or its unique set of traditions. Dao still tastes of itself, and for those of us who are increasingly bored with the sameness of wine around the world, that’s  a very good thing.

Recent DNA research points to Portugal as the place where the last ‘truly European’ grapes survived the most recent Ice Age, leaving the rest of Europe to  repopulate itself later with Middle Eastern grapes. Dao is particularly rich in both clonal and varietal diversity in this respect, with dozens of interesting autochthonous grapes still in use (many still unidentified). Touriga National and Encruzado--arguably Portugal’s top red and white grapes—originated in Dao.

Historically Dao’s grapes have been locked in to both red and white blends and only recently being unlocked as single varieties. It is increasingly clear that some of these grape varieties are world class and simply need stylistic development in their own right.

Fortunately, many of these grapes still grow in low yielding, old vineyards that naturally produce concentrated wine.  Others grow inter-mixed in ‘field blends’ that have decades of adaptive co-habitation within their terroir. When co-fermented they reveal highly specific statements about site and soil.

Dao also has great traditional tools to work with. The use of lagars—granite walled vessels used to tread grapes—dates back at least to the middle ages in Dao and probably thousands of years earlier. Sitting in silent testimony to this tradition, dozens of beautifully preserved, stone-age ‘largaretta’-- fermentation troughs, hand-hewn out of massive granite bolders--pepper the upper slopes of Dao’s major river valleys. Virtually every older quinta has one or two traditional waist high, granite walled lagar that was the centre of production generations back. Some of these are factory sized gargantuans, able to process dozens of tons of grapes, often capped with tree trunk driven presses. Increasingly these old tools are seen as offering new potentials within a wider range of modern winemaking practices.

Most importantly of all, Dao has style. Anyone who has tasted the traditional red and white blends created by Alberto Vilhena while at Centro de Estudos Vintivinicolas (CEV) knows Dao’s unique mix of grapes, climate and soil create wine with a tremendous capacity to evolve positively and age for decades. I’ve tasted most vintages back to 1958 on several occasions now and amazed at how complete, complex, compellingly mature each wine remains. Dao’s grapes can easily stand the test of time. Considering how good those wines were back then, and in light of what we know now about viticulture and winemaking today, Dao has a remarkably bright future.