The Cellar: Portuguese Basics

Thursday, April 06, 2017
Steffen Rasch, GoLocalWorcester Wine Writer

This week our wine journey takes us to Portugal whose presence in the global wine trade dates back centuries. While the country is traditionally known for its fortified wines of Porto and Madeira, it is Portugal’s table wines that in recent years have stolen the international spotlight. 

Portugal is a great place to look, especially for consumers who are looking for quality wines that also represent a good value. Two of Portugal's premier regions for red wines are Douro and Dão. While the Douro region is the home of the historic Port industry, winemakers also produce a slew of delicious table wines here. More than 80 different grapes are allowed to go into Douro wine, fortified as well as still. That said 5 grapes dominate the vineyards and make the base for most of the wines. These grapes are Touriga Nacional – the star grape of the Douro Valley - Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao and Tinta Roriz (otherwise known as Tempranillo). The Douro Valley where the grapes are grown is located inland. With arid conditions and a hot, dry climate the vineyards often yield ripe grapes making robust and full-bodied wines. It is not uncommon for the wines of Douro to spend considerable time in oak barrels. 

Dão is another region I urge you to check out. For a region that is located just 30 miles south of the Douro River, the wines of Dão are remarkably different. The main reason for this is the fact that the vineyards of Dão are surrounded by mountains, which results in a very different climate than in the rest of the country. Most of Dão's vineyards are located at high altitudes and are protected by the mountains from the extreme weather often experienced elsewhere. As a result Dão enjoys stable conditions throughout the grape growing season with warm days and cool nights allowing the grapes ripen fully but retain the much needed acidity. While the grapes grown here are pretty much the same as in Douro, the expression is very different. I have heard the wines of Dão being compared to those of Burgundy. While I wouldn’t go that far there definitely is a noticeable difference. 

This week’s two featured wines are the 2013 Feuerheerd’s Douro ($15ish) and 2013 Barão de Vilar Dão ($15ish). Looking at the wines side-by-side you can tell that the Dão is lighter in color. On the nose the Douro brims with ripe, bordering stewed dark fruits whereas the Dão is more red fruit driven with hints of spice. Both wines a have great, soft mouth-feel with the Douro being fuller-bodied. I prefer the Dão as it comes across more elegant, with more refined and defined characteristics. More defined acidity in the Dão leaves a sense of a fresher wine, but this is very much personal preference. I urge you to do the side-by-side comparison on your own. 


Steffen Rasch is the Sommelier at Persimmon Restaurant in Providence and the proprietor of the Providence Wine Academy.

  • Hardwick

    Hardwick Vineyard & Winery

    Central Mass’s own Hardwick Vineyard & Winery, open March-December, is a close to home treasure that produces 3,000 gallons of wine each year. The winery, which grows 6 varieties of grapes, is built on a quiet road in Hardwick that abuts the Quabbin Reservoir. Located on the property is a majestic 200 year old mansion. This weekend, take the trip to the vineyard to enjoy a wine tasting. Favorites include Massetts Cranberry and Yankee Girl Blush. If you head out on a Sunday; you’ll be in luck—the winery is hosting Sangria Sundays for the rest of the month.

    3305 Greenwich Road, Hardwick, MA. (413) 967-7763.

  • Westport Rivers

    Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery

    Tucked away on the southern coast of Massachusetts, Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery, located about an hour’s drive from Worcester, is worth the trip. For only $10, you can take home a special edition etched wine glass and enjoy a tasting of up to six of their award-winning wines. While the tasting room is open Monday-Saturday, free winery tours are also offered to the public every Saturday from 1-3pm.

    417 Hixbridge Rd, Westport, MA. (508) 636-3423.

  • Coastal Vineyards

    A relatively young addition to the Massachusetts family of wineries and vineyards, Coastal Vineyards in South Dartmouth opened its doors in 2004. Coastal Vineyards grows eight varieties of grapes on their property, including Riesling, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and more. For a special treat, head over on Sunday for their Ugly Sweater Wine Party featuring acoustic musician Ryan Thaxter. Don your ugliest sweater to get 35% off your purchase—and a chance at a prize.

    61 Pardon Hill Road, South Dartmouth, MA.

  • Amherst Farm Winery

    Head out to one of Massachusetts’s favorite college towns this weekend to check out Amherst Farm Winery. Enjoy a wine tasting set in a cozy 19th century post and beam dairy barn. For only $5 receive a logo glass and a taste of 5 of their 15 wines, including unique flavors like chocolate raspberry, pumpkin frost, cranberry, and more. Bring a picnic and cozy up on their leather sofa by the fire to enjoy your wine with a snack.

    529 Belchertown Road, Amherst, MA. (413) 253-1400.

  • Nashoba Valley WInery

    Take the bite off the winter chill this weekend and take a drive to Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton. The winery hosts tasting events everyday from 10am-4:30pm For $5, receive a free tasting glass and samples of up to five different wines. Some favorites include Strawberry Rhubarb Wine, Holiday Special Cranberry Apple (a new release in November 2013), and New English Cider. If you are in the mood for something other than wine (if that’s possible), check out their beer selection as well!

    100 Wattaquadock Hill Road, Bolton, MA. (978) 779-5521.

  • Mill River Winery

    Mill River Winery, located in Rowley, is the perfect wine destination for a mini-getaway. Enjoy the gorgeous winter scenery of Western Massachusetts as you wind through country roads to the winery. Mill River’s tasting room is housed in a refurbished cider mill, complete with eclectic décor that provides for an excellent tasting and shopping experience. Try their delicious Naked Chardonnay, a full bodied chardonnay with aromatic notes of lemon zest and pear. If you would like to get a “Dirt to Bottle Tour,” make sure to be at the winery at 2pm or 4pm Saturday or Sunday.

    498 Newburyport Turnpike, Rowley, MA. (978) 432-1280.

  • Black Birch Vineyard

    For only $6, get the full Black Birch Vineyard experience—tasting and a tour! Enjoy the great mix of contemporary and rustic décor of the tasting room and the local culture of this Massachusetts winery. While you’re in, be sure to try their award winning selection of reds and whites.

    155 Glendale Road, Southampton, MA. (413) 527-0164.

  • Taylor Brook Winery

    Located just over the border, Taylor Brook Winery in Woodstock, CT, is a hidden gem. This winery tends to over 2,000 vines of the finest grapes in the region. Head down to enjoy the country hospitality of this great local business, which offers tastings, bottles of their wine, and other great gift items for purchase. For a delicious winter wine, try their Winter Pomegranate.

    848 Route 171, Woodstock, CT. (860) 974-1263.

  • Obadiah McIntyre Farm

    Obadiah McIntyre Farm Winery

    The Obadiah McIntyre Farm Winery is located on the Charlton Orchards Farm property. The winery is owned and operated by a family that has been in the business of growing fruit for over 50 years, and began making wine in 1999. They are dedicated to making the best tasting wines around. Every weekend until the end of December, join them for a tasting and see for yourself.

    44 Old Worcester Road, Charlton, MA. (508) 248-7941.

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