When I attended a tasting last fall in New York and tried a serious wine from the Douro, I inquired as to the the grape variety.
“Field blend,” came the reply.
I laughed. What’s this “field blend” stuff? Can’t these Portuguese keep track of which grape vines they have in their vineyards? Well, after my trip to the region last week, I learned there’s a method to the apparent madness: many of the oldest vineyards were intentionally planted with a row of this and a row of that to be harvested at the same time and go into port. Table wine producers have tended to keep that same old vineyard blending to make lovable mongrel blends instead of purebreds, single varieties of the New World. Hey, if it works in Chateauneuf, why not elsewhere?
In planting new vineyards, some vineyard owners aim to repeat the traditional “field blend” approach of co-mingling varieties in the vineyard while others take a single vineyard, single variety approach. Thus many of the single vineyard wines from the region tend to be from newer vineyards.
The grape variety touriga comes in various forms in the region but none seems more prevalent than Touriga Nacional–it’s “national” for crying out loud! (It may have actually originated in the Dao Valley to the south of the Douro.)
In a few tastings of the grape, I found it to have wonderful aromatic intensity, particularly of violets. It tends to have a big attack, sometimes tannic and a long finish, but the mid-palate seemed hollow on occasion–maybe that’s why it’s traditionally a blender.
Anyway, at Quinta do Vallado, I tried the 2005 Touriga Nacional, from vines less than 10 years old. Great aromas of chocolate, cherry and violets made the nose alluring–on the palate the tannins were grippy and the wine could do with some more bottle age, which is exactly what it will get since it is not here in the US market yet. (find this wine)
Moving up the quality scale, I tasted the Quinta do Crasto 04 and 05 versions of the Touriga Nacional. Manuel Lobo, winemaker with Australian Dominic Morris, said that if the the best quality touriga gets bottled as a varietal wine while the rest goes into the reserva blend (there have been only five varietal bottlings since 1995). The 2004 again had great aromas of blackcurrants and violets with an herbal note and faint chocolate with lots of depth. It’s available now but tips the scales at $70 (find this wine). The 05 was equally impressive though the oak presence was stronger, perhaps because it was bottled more recently. (find this wine)
While these were very good examples of the grape and I’m pleased to have had the experience, my favorite wines from the region remained the blends. Maybe that old field blend that I laughed about last fall isn’t such a bad thing after all.
This is my contribution for Wine Blogging Wednesday #37 – “go native.” Check this site in a couple of days for the complete roundup from around the blogosphere.