From €7.30, £13.95, 2,100 yen, $19.99, CA$26.95, 179 Norwegian krone, £139.19 Brazilian reais
One of the 50 Portuguese wines I presented in Oslo ten days ago is now extremely rare: up to 90% of the Casa de Mouraz Elfa 2013 was destroyed by the fires in Dão in mid October. Elfa is a what I describe in my tasting note as an 'authentic Dão red' made from around 30 different varieties in an 85-year-old field blend. (Elfa is a colloquial term referring to planting a vineyard by hand with a mix of varieties.)
Fortunately, stock of the Casa de Mouraz Branco 2015 Dão, a white wine also made from an old-vine field blend of around 15 varieties, remained safe in the hands of Sara Dionísio and her partner António Lopes Ribeiro. They were among the wine producers most seriously affected by the fires that burned in central Portugal, including the Dão wine region.
When I asked Sara about the fire, she replied by email on 20 October: ‘Unfortunately, we have been strongly affected by Sunday’s fires in the centre/north of Portugal. We’ve lost more than 50% of our vineyards with the fire, the house where António was born and our warehouse (where we stocked the most part of our wines in bottle). The only place that was not affected by this huge tragedy was the winery. Our family are all alive, fortunately!
‘Now we are trying to find a new warehouse where we can stock all the pallets and look at the thousands of bottles to see what we still have available to sell. The pallets that we have been able to remove from the warehouse are scattered in several places, we can’t yet estimate the real damage in terms of wine losses. … This tragedy represents a big obstacle, but we don’t want to give up!
‘Now the best help we can have is that the people continue to believe, buy and drink our wines!’ (For the story of how they came back to the village of Mouraz, António's birthplace, in 2000, see their website and the much greener photos thereon.)
There is another reason to buy this wine: it’s delicious and distinctively Portuguese thanks to its region of origin (see the online World Atlas of Wine map, showing the winery in the north-west corner of Dão) and the mix of varieties, captured by careful winemaking without use of oak. These varieties include Encruzado (Casa de Mouraz also make an excellent varietal Encruzado that ages beautifully), Malvasia Fina, Bical, Cerceal Branco, Rabo de Ovelha, Fernão Pires, Síria and others.
When I first tasted the wine back in May, I gave it a high score of 17 out of 20 and described it as follows: 'Interestingly tangy aroma, herbal, quince. Dry but intense, with greengage and quince on the palate and a long, salty finish. So crisp and driving on the palate and very long.’ The alcohol is a balanced 13.5% and I reckoned that you could continue to drink this until 2023 such is its intensity, harmony and freshness, which gives a very long lemony aftertaste. More mouth-watering than Opal Fruits.
Field blends are not unique to Portugal but they do seem to be more common and treasured there, and not just in Dão but also in the Douro Valley. They are an important part of Dão tradition. The 50-year-old Casa de Mouraz vines are certified organic and have been farmed biodynamically since 2006, though not certified as such. All the varieties are harvested and fermented together in tank and kept on the yeast lees for eight months to give a little more richness and texture, providing a counterpoint to the mouth-watering acidity.
The potential longevity of this wine, and the ability of older vines to bend to vintage conditions, means that I would also be happy to recommend the 2012 and 2013 vintages, which are the ones currently available on some markets such as the US, especially since these two older vintages are a little more structured than the 2015, according to Sara Dionísio. (They had a very small harvest of white grapes in 2014.) Having tasted samples of 2012 and 2013 today, I can confirm that they seem richer and more dense, with those cedar flavours becoming almost resin-like. Even so they have not lost their freshness in any way though they do have less primary fruit flavours, as you might expect.
The producer's website gives the following food-matching recommendations: oven-baked fish such as cod, salmon or tuna. Also very good with white meat and some vegetarian dishes like pasta with pesto or cheese sauces.
Casa de Mouraz Branco is imported into the UK by Raymond Reynolds, who say that the 2015 is available at an RRP of £15–£17 from the following stockists: Highbury Vintners, D Byrne & Co, Ben's Farm Shop, Portuguese Love Affair Deli Café, Gwin Dylanwad Wine, Reserve Wines and The Stroud Wine Company. Other vintages are still available and prices vary.