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A Varietal to Watch: Touriga Nacional may Conquer the Globe and Come to Rival Cabernet

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22/11/2023 Exploring the Global Rise of Touriga Nacional: A Wine Enthusiast's Guide

It will become increasingly important in the world of fine wine, and sommeliers should keep an eye on it. Bordeaux vintners are keen on its potential, it has plenty of fans in Australia and California; some compare its aromas with “the infamous Napa Cabernet and opulent Barossa Shiraz.” We are talking about Touriga Nacional, the longstanding robust red grape variety of Portugal’s Douro Valley.

Image: Sommelier Choice Award 2023 Winners - Touriga Nacional Varietal Brands (From Left-Right: Sandeman Vintage Quinta do Seixo 2019, Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Tawny Porto, Arca Nova Vinho Verde Rosé, Croft Reserve Tawny, Silk & Spice Red Blend 2021, Freixo Terroir, AR Reserva and Tesouro Da Sé Private Selection)

Touriga began to receive some positive press as a varietal about ten years ago, and few obstacles exist to a meteoric rise to prominence. In 2020, it caused news in Chile. Chilean winery Viña Los Boldos, affiliated with the Sogrape Group, unveiled its devotion to Touriga Nacional, marking the grape's debut in the country. Victor Arce, the chief winemaker at Los Boldos, views these wines as a fusion of Chilean and Portuguese influences, representing a novel wine style for Chile while honoring the company's Portuguese heritage. Initially cultivating just 0.22 hectares of hand-grafted Portuguese vines, the estate, in collaboration with Sogrape, expanded the planting to approximately 3.6 hectares. Since 2017, they've crafted both a red and a rosé, harnessing the expertise of Sogrape's Miguel Pessanha and António Braga. Los Boldos's unique micro-terroir in Cachapoal, characterized by permeable, rocky soil and mountain-influenced cold weather, imparts distinctive freshness, acidity, and elegant floral notes to the Touriga Nacional. The company targets markets like Chile, Brazil, the UK, and the US, focusing on specialized restaurants and small wine retailers.

Image Source: Symington Family Estates 

Of course, Touriga shines as a dry red wine on its home turf as well. Altano Douro Quinta do Ataide Reserva, for example, is produced solely from the Touriga Nacional grape, Altano Douro Quinta do Ataide Reserva stands as a testament to its ability to exhibit complexity all on its own. Crafted by the Symington family, renowned for their prestigious port houses like Graham’s, Dow’s, and Warre’s, this wine showcases an aromatic allure with hints of violets and lavender before revealing deep, rich flavors reminiscent of forest fruits and chocolate. This wine pairs exquisitely with hearty, beefy stews, offering a perfect complement to long, dark nights. The Alvaro Castro Tinto, from Dão, south of the Douro, embodies the qualities of Touriga Nacional-based blends. Similar to Bergerac's connection to Bordeaux blends, Dão wines are often overshadowed by their more expensive neighbors but deliver exceptional quality. These blends, centered around Touriga, offer a cherry-like acidity, freshness, and slightly redder fruit notes with a touch of herbal nuances, complementing the grape's characteristic floral character.

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Portugal and Bordeaux are not the only European spots for Touriga. The Altavia Thend from Liguria, Italy, shows that the grape has made its mark in various exotic locations, including Liguria. In Italy, Altavia presents a rare gem: the Altavia Thend, a remarkably pure and fragrant expression. With limited production, this wine exemplifies the grape's vivid, floral profile, showcasing its unique presence in Liguria, and offering a distinctive and enchanting drinking experience.

Image Source: Wikipedia

What should you expect from Touriga-based wines? Typically, these wines are renowned for their intense and complex profiles. In terms of aromas, they may showcase floral characteristics such as violets and lavender, offering a delicate yet aromatic bouquet. On the palate, these wines frequently present a mix of dark and red fruit flavors, encompassing notes of blackberries, plums, and cherries. Wines of Portugal states: “Touriga Nacional is a thick-skinned grape, and those skins are rich in color and tannins, giving excellent structure and aging capacity. But it also has wonderful, intense flavors, at the same time floral and fruity - ripe blackcurrants, raspberries - with complex hints also of herbs and liquorice.” Additionally, one might detect hints of herbs, spice, and chocolate, contributing to the wine's depth and complexity. Touriga Nacional-based wines tend to possess a distinctive structure with firm tannins, providing a robust framework that supports the wine's rich and layered flavors. As with Cabernet Sauvignon, it performs well with age. Overall, these wines often offer a harmonious balance between fruitiness, floral notes, and nuanced complexities, making them both intriguing and enjoyable. They are definitely worthy of adding to most wine lists and present an excellent value.

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