Portugal has a huge range of its own homegrown grape varieties, some of them also found in neighbouring Spain. A prime example is the Jaen grape also grown in Bierzo in Northwest Spain where it is known as Mencia and sometimes described as the Pinot Noir of Spain. The grape produces silky rounded wines with lots of forest fruit and gentle tannins. A great food wine it pairs well with charcuterie, pepper steak, cheese, risottos and even pepperoni pizzas !
Its home in Portugal is in the Dão region, a beautiful, tree-clad mountainous region in the centre of Portugal where more and more of this grape is being planted. Jaen is well suited to the cool wet climate of the Dão region because its short life cycle saves it from the frosts and rains of the equinoxes; a big help in a high rainfall region like the Dão. It is said that the making of wine from Jaen grapes is more about what happens in the vineyard than what happens in the winery. Its wild and unruly behaviour in the vineyard means constant pruning and training to focus its attention on grape production. It is notoriously difficult to get right, acidity drops off quickly and often blending with more acidic varieties is needed such as Rufete, Touriga Nacional and Sousão.
A wine maker who has tamed Jaen is João Tavares da Pina of Terras de Tavares in northern Dão region. João has a highly individual approach to wine making and in particular makes wonderful wines from Jaen delivering ‘ripe tannins without losing delicate aromas, all at lower alcohol levels around 13%, resulting in ‘freshness, not high acidity” (Paul White of Winedisclosures) http://www.winedisclosures.com/portugal/dao/dao-wines/44-terras-de-tavares-quinta-da-boavista
Dão wines are famous for their ageing qualities and Joao’s 2002 Terras de Tavares is now coming into its own. Blended with Touriga Nacional this wine is spicy and floral with red fruits on the nose and mouth. Fine firm tannins, this wine is long with a rounded elegance, elegance being the key quality of Jaen.
João is a great host and loves to talk about his wines, Jaen in particular. A stay at the beautiful Quinta da Boavista is very worthwhile, tucked away in the wooded valleys to the east of Viseu. A tour of the vineyards and his new vine nursery where he has planted a whole range of indigenous grape varieties is a real treat !