From €4.95, £10.35
The first necessity of a wine of the week is to taste delicious. Its second is to be available with reasonable ease. This red from Casa de Passarella ticks both boxes (see here for a list of their distributors around the world) – but then, so do many hundreds of other wines. So why should this one deserve particular recognition?
The answer is something that is critical to the fate of so many wines, yet barely merits a mention in these wines of the week: marketing.
Nor should it, perhaps – after all, this is our weekly opportunity to bring you wines that might otherwise go unrecognised, whose marketing department consists solely of the winemaker's spouse (who is also the accountant, winery assistant, warehouse manager and grief counsellor). So before we get to the marketing, let me tell you about the wine itself.
A Descoberta 2014 (branded simply as DÃO in the US) is a blend of 30% Touriga Nacional, 30% Jaen, 20% Alfrocheiro and 20% Tinta Roriz from granitic soils in the Serra de Estrela subregion of Dão in north central Portugal, at elevations of between 700 and 800 metres (2,300-2,625 ft) above sea level. It is unoaked, 13.5% alcohol, 3.6 pH with just under 6 g/l of total acidity, and my tasting note reads 'cherry jam, liquorice, violet, blackcurrant – absolutely charming. So vivid! In both colour and perfume.'
I encountered it at the recent tasting organised by its UK importer Enotria Coe, and I really enjoyed its authentic Portuguese style – fruit flavour that is baked without being lumpen, and a combination of both floral (violet) and savoury (liquorice) complexity that provides levity yet remains appetisingly dry. Then I asked about the label.
It features an old-fashioned box with an intriguing red scroll trapped in the side. This box was found hidden in the walls of the house in 2010. It was opened ... and found empty. As a story, this was something of a non-starter – so they made one up. As their excellent website says:
The mystery of the box found inside one of the walls of Casa da Passarella is finally resolved. The story begins in 1942, when a box is secretly hidden in the stone walls of a room in the Casa da Passarella by their former owners, containing a beautiful handwritten document with instructions to be opened 50 years later. The document, signed by some iconic characters of the time, also contained a last will: that all the riches stored in the box were [to be] distributed to the poor.
Truth is, neither of those things happened. Only in 2010, when the Casa had undergone works, the box was found and opened. And there was nothing inside. The investigations were advancing, the mystery never has unravelled. When it seemed that resignation would eventually beat persistence, a specialist in unusual events was called to the scene. 'The box was actually filled' – explained Professor K Noronha – 'but not with material, tangible things. The box was impregnated with a special substance that reacts with times to come, bringing happiness through wine to those who wish and know how to take advantage of it. Now these times to come are already part of the present. And this is a double discovery,' he concluded.
Hence the name of the wine: A Descoberta, meaning 'discovery'. But is the professor also fictional? Indeed, is the whole conceit imaginary? What really matters is that it grabs the imagination, and makes the wine memorable. It provides a good story to tell while sharing a bottle over dinner with friends, or as something to idly consider while having a cogitative glass of an evening alone.
I'm not usually one to fall for fanciful rhetoric – but when it's done this well, it deserves recognition. What makes us engage with wine is as much about stories as it is flavours – but we so often focus on winemaking and ignore storytelling. So, credit where it's due – Casa da Passarella are that rare example of a producer who excels at creating both authentic, delicious wines and authentic, enjoyable stories. I will therefore leave the final word to them.
You will never know if it was the weather, if it was the land. If it was the talent of the people who went by and their fascinating stories and personalities. Or if it was simple, plain luck. That same fate that gathered all this at the same place, at the right time, like a blessing of planets aligned, of sun and rain and the curiosity of men. One thing is certain. Silent and majestic, the old mountain has witnessed the birth of great wines in this piece of Dão land that lies at her feet. And though a century and a half is almost nothing to her, in human time a lot has happened since the first vines were planted and the first stone of the House was placed, sometime in the last decades of the nineteenth century. 150 years that have been everything but dull. Traversed by war and peace, abundance and poverty, departures and arrivals, splendour and oblivion, the lands of Passarella saw history being written – by very different, talented authors but always with their blood, the wine. Perhaps legends do not exist and are true after all. Perhaps History does repeat itself. Or perhaps plain and simple luck continues on our side. Howsoever, with Earth as a blank page, we will keep on writing our words, harvest after harvest.
In the same way that Dão is legendary, both for its memories as its apparent naturalness to produce wines that men cannot forget, Casa da Passarella is back to put its name in everyone’s lips – which, in our humble opinion, is precisely where all great wines should be.