Touriga Nacional - A Portugese Superstar
This Portuguese superstar is a grape worth knowing about. It is famed for its role in the production of the fortified wine, port. The hot summers in the Douro valley allow the grapes to reach its full ripeness levels and produce an intense fruity style of wine. It is also increasingly being used in the production of still red wine.
It produces bold, fruit forward wines which are full-bodied and when well made a delight to drink. The rest of the world is now beginning to discover the wonders of this variety and I would expect to be seeing more from the grape in the coming years.
THE GRAPES CHARACTERISTICS
High in everything, this is regarded as a big, bold grape! The grapes thick skins provide a heavy tannin structure which is balanced with a full body and intense fruit flavour. The grape can struggle to retain acid, especially in very warm years. Typically, this isn’t a problem when it is blended with other varieties, as it nearly always is in the production of port.
The usual flavours the grape possesses are rich black fruits such as blackberry and plum, often with softer raspberry or blueberry notes. When grown well the grape gives complex layers of flavour similar to black olive, slate and often a minty note, finished with a burst of violets or similar flowers.
Due to the grapes fundamental big, bold characteristics, it’s a good ageing variety. The tannins soften and become more velvety in style. This is seen in vintage port, which can be aged in bottle for decades whilst constantly evolving. As it ages the flavours become more tertiary in style moving towards liquorice, leather, chocolate and tobacco.
Oak suits this variety very well, again nursing the tannins to become more in line with the rest of the wine. It suits both new and old, however the former can give rich, toasty wood notes that suit the grapes primary flavours.
Its home, and one of the best varieties Portugal has on offer, although plantings are not nearly as high as other red varieties. Originally the grape came from Northern Portugal, however, it has spread throughout the country. It’s two strongholds are still the Douro Valley and Dao.
Although this is far from the most planted variety in the Douro Valley it does play an extremely important role. Its low yields put many farmers off growing the grape as they look for a more profitable, high yielding variety. In fact, it almost went extinct due to this factor alone, however, plantings are increasing and it is once again a favoured choice. In the Douro (and throughout the majority of Portugal) the grape is almost always blended. This is extremely common for the production of port with a vast number of grapes being permitted to join the final wine. It often requires softening from other varieties such as Touriga Franca. Its ability to age well is what many port houses love about the grape and is often plays a role in the most expensive, age-worthy, vintage ports.
Arguably the home of Touriga Nacional (unless you are speaking to a winemaker in the Douro!) Dao is located just to the south of the Douro and has the perfect climate and soils for this grape. Its high altitudes give cooler nights, retaining a higher level of acidity and its unfertile, granite soils help the vine to intensify its grapes.
Although it is far from prolific there are increasing plantings in Spain. Here it is often blended with Tempranillo, a grape known as Tinta Roriz in Portugal and the two are typically blended together there as well.
A country that seems to be experimenting with all the Portugal has on offer. Here Touriga Nacional is still planted in relatively small numbers. The main area is in Klein Karoo to the east of Cape Town where a number of Portuguese grapes are being grown.
Portuguese varieties are beginning to be seen in California particularly in Lodi, where both Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional are being used. The likes of Napa and Sonoma are still concentrating on their more traditional grapes.
Plantings are spreading throughout Australia, however, the majority of wines are kept in the country itself. The majority is planted in South Australia and a little is finding its way into fortified wines