Touriga Nacional, Portugal's Pedigreed Grape
In the mass of grape varieties that make up Portugal’s wine mosaic, Touriga Nacional stands out. It’s the country’s iconic grape, and the one that has the best claim to world-class status.
Yet, 40 years ago, in the late 1970s, it almost disappeared. Yields were too low and farmers were pulling it out to plant more fecund grape varieties. So what happened to bring Touriga Nacional back?
The Port producers in the Douro Valley saw its huge potential and its importance to the Port blend. And they were behind the research into producing clones that produced higher yields while maintaining quality.
Today, with yields up 35 percent, it’s planted not just in its home regions of Dão and Douro, but throughout the country, lending its aristocratic character and ageability to many Portuguese wines.
According to António Graça, head of research and development at Sogrape, Portugal’s largest wine producer, Touriga Nacional is a top-quality grape variety because of its aromatic character of violets and bergamot, “one of the few red varieties which has such an intense aroma.”
Graça believes that, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional is best in a blend.
“You make more than the sum of the parts when you blend,” he says. “Sometimes, if you have Touriga Nacional by itself, it’s too intense.”
For winemaker Luis Duarte, it’s “the concentration, the structure, the floral character and the wonderful fruitiness” that makes the grape such an important element in so many Portuguese blends.
Duarte’s work in the Alentejo region developed what he considers an ideal blend of Touriga Nacional with the local Alicante Bouschet and Tinta Miuda.
Today, Portugal’s most famous grape is traveling around the world—across the United States, Australia, New Zealand and even, starting this year, in France. From near extinction to world traveler in 40 years—that’s pretty good.
Quinta do Vale Meão 2012 Tinto (Douro); $90, 92 points. This is one of the grand wines of the Douro, from the last estate to be founded by the legendary Dona Antonia Ferreira in the 19th century. It’s a long-lasting wine showing a fresh character, with dense, dark tannins and intense floral fruit. This is a blend, with 60% Touriga Nacional, along with Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz. The vineyard is in the remote eastern Douro Superior subregion, which is particularly good for table wines. The Touriga Nacional adds concentration as well as elegance and perfume to the blend, giving the wine immense aging potential. Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits. Cellar Selection.
Quinta da Romaneira 2010 Reserva (Douro); $80, 94 points. Released after the 2011 vintage, this elegant wine has great presence. A blend of 55% Touriga Nacional and 45% Touriga Franca, it offers vibrant, structured fruit even though its full glory is several years away. The combination of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca has been compared to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; Franca is the smooth partner to the characterful Nacional that has the intensity and aromatic character. It also gives the wine its aging potential. Vision Wine & Spirits. Cellar Selection.
Fontes da Cunha 2012 Munda Touriga Nacional (Dão); $50, 93 points. Touriga Nacional’s home is believed to be the Dão, and this varietal wine is very fine, ripe and textured. Produced on sandy soil by winemakers Francisco Olazabal, from Quinta do Vale Meão in the Douro, and owner Joana Cunha, the wine is in the new style of Dão, emphasizing the fruit as much as its natural mineral texture. It shows how the variety’s structure and fruit can work easily together. EcoValley.
Herdade do Esporão 2011 TN Touriga Nacional (Alentejo); $35, 93 points. Made from old plantings of Touriga Nacional, grown on poor, stony soil, this is a structured wine. Perfumed and juicy, it’s rich in dark fruits and powerful tannins. The 2011 vintage shows the best side of Touriga Nacional from Alentejo because the weather wasn’t too extreme, revealing the grape’s potential elegance. It also shows how well the grape works with wood aging—in this case, 12 months—which adds richness to the palate and smooths out the dense texture. There’s no doubt that this is a firm wine that will age. Esporão Wines & Olive Oils. Cellar Selection.
Herdade dos Grous 2011 Reserva (Alentejano); $40, 93 points. Winemaker Luis Duarte used his favorite blend of Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet and Tinta Miuda. For a change, the structure of Touriga Nacional is less important than its rich fruits and floral character, while the tannins of the other two grapes provide support. Serious wood aging, leaving notes of spice and toast, along with dark tannins and brooding flavors of black plum and damson skin suggest this wine will develop well, with a rich future. Aidil Wines/Old World Import. Cellar Selection.
Aveleda 2011 Follies Fonte Nossa Senhora da Vandoma Touriga Nacional-Cabernet Sauvignon (Bairrada); $11, 92 points. Mainly Touriga Nacional, with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, this structured wine offers firm tannins and dark berry fruit. It has a ripe, juicy intensity, with ample acidity to balance the firm texture and dark, dry core. A blend between two such structured grape varieties could be too much, but in this great value wine, the Touriga lends fruitiness and aromatic character while the Cabernet provides the structure. Aveleda Imports. Best Buy.
Dão Sul 2010 Cabriz Touriga Nacional (Dão); $30, 92 points. Pure Touriga Nacional from its home territory in the Dão, this is a rich, full-bodied, perfumed wine. Dark and complex, it’s ripe and packed with black currant and berry fruits, tense acidity and dryness from wood aging. The cool Dão region is where the aromatic character of Touriga Nacional is most intense. This producer has managed a fine balancing act between perfume and fruit, as neither dominates the other. Aidil Wines/Old World Import.
Magnum Vinhos 2012 Ribeiro Santo Reserva (Dão); $20, 92 points. A classic blend of Dão grapes, including Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional, this is a generous, full wine that balances a firm, mineral texture with ripe plum and damson fruits. In the Dão, Touriga Nacional is sometimes larger than life—it has an intense minerality that comes from the granite soil, generous fruits and a floral character that has been likened to violets. The tannins are almost incidental in this complex lineup of flavors, but they’re what will allow the wine to age. Wine-in-Motion. Editors’ Choice.
Ramos Pinto 2012 Duas Quintas Reserva (Douro) $41, 92 points. This is a powerful, ripe and generously fruity wine. With red berry and rich spice from wood aging, it’s dense, complex and aromatic. This is the latest release of one of the first quality Douro table wines (as distinct from Port), first produced in 1991. A blend of 50% Touriga Nacional with Touriga Franca and Tinta da Barca, this expresses the dry, hot terroir of the eastern Douro Superior. The Touriga Nacional leads the way in concentration while being a fine team player in the blend, an important characteristic of the grape. Drink it from 2018. Maisons Marques & Domaines USA.
DFJ Vinhos 2012 Grand’Arte Touriga Nacional (Lisboa); $15, 91 points. Touriga Nacional doesn’t have to be pricey, and this is an exemplary expression. The grapes were sourced from a single cool-climate vineyard in Lisboa, close to the ocean. The wine has structure, perfumes, rich black-fruit flavors and a serious tannic background. However, early picking and the fact that it has been softened by six months of wood aging has smoothed out the firm texture and yielded a wine that can be enjoyed young. Tri-Vin Imports. Best Buy.
- 1The Douro’s Touriga Nacional
- 2Touriga Nacional from Dão, Alentejo and Alentejano
- 3Portugal’s Touriga Nacional Bounty