Portugal’s signature big bold red
Of the more than 250 grape varietals native to Portugal, Touriga Nacional is by far the stand-out star. The backbone of some of the world’s finest vintage Ports, the grape has been increasingly used as the base for first-rate stand-alone table wines.
The best examples derive from the northern wine regions of Dão and the Douro Valley. Douro is the most abundant producer of Touriga, where the rocky schist soils, low rainfall and searing summer heat stress the vines to produce dense, bold and intensely concentrated wines. In the Dão region, thought to be the varietal’s birthplace, the soils are composed of sand and granite and the altitude tempers the summer temperatures, resulting in lighter-styled wines that are higher in acidity and more floral and mineral-driven.
In both regions, this is a difficult and demanding grape to grow. While the vines produce thick-skinned blue-black berries that are deep in color and prodigiously flavorful and aromatic, the clusters and grapes are quite small — even tiny — resulting in exceptionally low yields. Because the vines are quite vigorous in producing foliage, they require extensive pruning for maximum sunlight and air exposure to the fruit.
Vintners commonly blend Touriga Nacional with indigenous Portuguese varietals like Touriga Franca or Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo), but it is available in stand-alone bottlings as well. These wines are dry, full-bodied and complex, with a bouquet of violets plus blue and black fruits and hints of spices and cocoa. The palate shows off flavors of black cherries, blackberries, blueberries, black currants, plums and black pepper that merge with nuances of mint, dark chocolate, wildflowers and sometimes minerality. Aging in oak barrels can contribute notes of vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Because of their firm tannins, abundant acidity and elevated alcohol levels (as high as 15 percent) these wines are excellent candidates for long-term cellaring.
Touriga Nacional is just beginning to emerge on the international stage. The biggest plantings are in Australia and New Zealand, while smaller quantities can be found in Spain, South America, South Africa, California, Washington State, Virginia and Texas.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• SIMON LAMBERT
The Chicago Wine Co. 845 N. Central Ave., Wood Dale. (630 594-2972)
-2015 Kumeu River Chardonnay (New Zealand) $52. This complex wine starts with a nose of lemon, grapefruit, peach and hazelnuts with hints of minerals and lime, chased by a palate of citrus and ripe stone fruits and balanced by bracing acidity.
-2013 Elvio Cogno Barolo Cascina Nuovo (Italy) $48. In this 100 percent Nebbiolo, a nose of black cherries, strawberries and wildflowers greets a palate of cherries, raspberries, spices, pepper and tobacco. Firm tannins lead to a long, lingering finish.
• TANK ZAYED
Leo’s Wines and Spirits 3018 Hobson Rd., Woodridge (630 963-2044)
-2015 Tooth and Nail The Possessor Cabernet Sauvignon (Calif.) $31. This Cabernet/Merlot blend treats the nose with scents of black cherries, currants and hints of oak and herbs, while flavors of blackberries, plums and raspberries abound.
-2014 MooBuzz Pinot Noir (Calif.) $17. A smooth-drinking ,light Pinot boasting an abundance of plums, raspberries, strawberries and cherries, with notes of earth, mocha and spice. Low tannins and a velvety finish.