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Spotlight on Portugal's Dão region
Part 5: Sogrape
– Quinta dos Carvalhais

The obligatory sheep picture: Sogrape's impressive Carvalhais winery in the background

Sogrape are Portugal’s largest wine company. They have produced Dão wine since 1957, buying wines from a number of co-ops, the most significant of which was the one at Tazem, which now markets its own wines. The best-known of the Sogrape Dão wines was traditionally the Grão Vasco brand, which is still made. Recently, though, Sogrape has reinvented itself, modernizing its wines for the international marketplace.

On part of this modernization process was investing heavily in the Dão region. Sogrape purchased Quinta dos Carvalhais in 1988 and started planting in 1989. It’s a substantial (by Dão standards, at least) 100 hectare property with 50 hectares of vines. At the centre of the estate is a state-of-the-art winery capable of processing 6 million litres of wine each harvest. That’s a lot by anyone’s standards.

The Carvalhais estate grapes go into the reserve wines. To produce their wide array of Dão wines, including the inexpensive but well made Duque del Viseu, Sogrape need to buy in grapes. For this reason they have a network of 500 growers.

The problem with buying grapes is that because they are all going into the same pot, there’s often an incentive for growers to concentrate on quantity ahead of quality. Sogrape counter this tendency in a number of ways. They pay 40% more for Touriga Nacional and 25–30% more for Tinta Roriz, the two sexiest grapes. They give growers technical support, pay crop insurance and some harvest expenses. As a measure of progress, when the winery opened in 1990, 80% of grapes were non-authorized, by 1996 the proportion was 50%, and now 80% of grapes are the ‘noble’ ones for this region.

The grape reception area is technologically advanced. Growers turn up to the computerized weighbridge with grapes in containers that Sogrape supply. They insert a smart card, and a machine takes samples of these grapes, measuring the sugar levels. An expert also checks the grapes for quality. On the basis of this information a display indicates to the growers which bin to go to deposit their grapes, and they get paid accordingly.

I took a trip through the vineyards. Most interesting was an experimental vineyard with 4 hectares of Touriga Nacional (pictured right). The vines are trained high on a trellis on the vigorous R1003 rootsock. The idea is that the vines are very productive, producing high yields of good quality grapes with the shoots growing both up and down, a bit like the Smart–Dyson system. This system produces as much as 70 hectolitres/hectare, while retaining quality. In 2002 the best grapes came from this vineyard, despite the high yields.

Then I tasted a wide range of wines, from the Dão but also from the Douro, Minho and Alentejo. The quality was admirably high, with good regional definition to the wines. I often criticize big producers, but Sogrape are doing a good job: they are concentrating on the quality of their wines and the needs of the marketplace. Yes, if you’ve got the time and money you’ll find better examples elsewhere in most of these regions, but this isn’t comparing like for like. In most countries the large producers concentrate on their marketing budgets to the detriment of their wines, but Sogrape seem to be focused on the quality of what’s in the bottle. A sensible strategy.

Dão wines

Sogrape Duque de Viseu Branco 2003 Dão
Fresh limey, herby nose which is quite aromatic and fresh. Lovely weight of fruit on the palate with a bit of nuttiness. Slightly grapey. Modern and nice. Very good+87/100

Sogrape Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado 2002 Dão
Distinctive toasty, nutty nose with a hint of lifted acidity. Very full and quite oak influenced. The palate is rounded, nutty and quite rich on palate. Nice but a bit oaky. Very good+ 88/100

Sogrape Duque de Viseu Tinto 2001 Dão
Very appealing sweet berry fruit nose with a spicy, cherryish edge. Sweet and savoury. The palate is ripe and rounded with lovely fruit and a spicy, plummy finish. Nicely savoury. Lots of flavour here in quite a refined style. Very good+ 87/100

Sogrape Reserva Dão 2000
Lovely dense berry fruit nose with a distinctive spicy, savoury twist. Quite classy. The palate is dense and chewy with  refined, spicy berry and black fruit together with a firm tannic core. Good acidity. Perfectly judged and quite satisfying in a modern style. Very good+ 89/100

Sogrape Quinta dos Carvalhais Touriga Nacional 2000
Lovely aromatic spicy nose with some wild black fruit and herb character. Hints of tar and violets—very typical for this grape. The palate is concentrated and spicy with a good depth of chewy, spicy fruit and nice structure. A big wine with lots going on but still well behaved. Good acidity and some elegance. Very good/excellent 92/100

Sogrape Quinta de Azvedo 2003 Vinho Verde
Lovely grassy, vivid nose with some rich liminess. The palate shows lovely high acidity, with a touch of herbiness to the lemony fruit. Very well made. 4 g residual sugar left in. Very good+ 87/100

Other wines

Sogrape Reserva Branco 2003 Douro
Bright, fresh lemony nose. Nice fruit with subtle toastiness from the oak. The palate is fresh and lemony with well judged oak adding richness. Deliciously fresh. Very good+ 89/100

Sogrape Villa Regia 2000 Douro
Sappyish berry fruit dominates this clean, correct red. Juicy and modern this is accessible without being too exciting. Very good 84/100

Sogrape Reserva 2000 Douro
Sweet open nose is ripe with hints of caramel and vanilla. The palate is ripe with rounded black fruits backed up by spicy oak. A modern wine: tasty if a bit oaky. Very good+ 88/100

Sogrape Vinha Monte 2002 Alentejo
Bright vivid black cherry fruit on the nose, showing a spicy, minty edge. The palate shows nice open black fruits with spicy vanilla undertones: lovely fruit in a modern style. Very good+ 86/100

Sogrape Reserva 2001 Alentejo
Very sweet caramelly, liqueur-like fruit on the nose with vanilla and coconut undertones. The palate is concentrated, dense and rich. Ripe and bold with spicy oak and sweet fruit. Very good+ 88/100

Sogrape Herdade de Peso Aragônes 2000 Alentejo
This up-market wine is the second release of a varietal wine from the Alentejo by Sogrape. Very deep coloured. Complex nose of dark fruits, spice and herbs: very taut and intense. The palate is concentrated and rich with sweet dark fruits and some spicy complexity. A rich wine that is typical of the Alentejo but very well judged, without too much oak and nice tannic structure. Very good/excellent 92/100    

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