Touriga Nacional up the Douro, WBW 37


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.

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12 Responses to “Touriga Nacional up the Douro, WBW 37”

  1. Touriga Nacional, nice choice, but I really wanted bonus points and couldn’t find a new world counterpart for that one. I love the Portuguese blends as well – history is very important.

  2. Hey Joe,

    Comparing Touriga N with your tannat would be interesting. My hunch is TN would win.

    There are a few producers of TN in Australia and California, though it is way out of the limelight…


  3. Yes, that is a nice choice. I have had the pleasure of tasting a couple of them as well at a trade tasting.For my WBW entry I tasted a Tinta Barocca, one of the 5 main grapes used in the making of port. Unfortunately it was one from South Africa, where it is practically considered indigenous. Hope it counts for this WBW.

  4. Well done on the Touriga Nacional.

    Are you considering new vines as New World and old vines as indigenous? Which would only work if the the Quinta do Crasto came from old vines. In other words: do you get BONUS POINTS?!

    Also, is anyone in Portugal interested in mapping their vineyards ala Bucklin to see exactly what’s in the field blends? Or is that just obsessive New World behavior?

  5. Some years ago I went to an interesting tasting of offbeat varieties at UC Davis. I remember Randall Grahm was there also. The Port varieties, grown in California and made as dry table wines, were wonderful, including the Touriga. We were all wondering why more California growers don’t plant them [instead of more Cabernet and Chardonnay] when a marketing and PR person who was there answered the question: Too hard to sell! That’s when I realized the tremendous power — not always for the good — that mktg-sales types have in the wine industry.

  6. Wilf, Sure, it works. I’m not that much of a stickler.

    Steve DL – The Vallado wines were new; the Crasto wines are old. Viva bonus points!

    Steve H – Thanks very much for this interesting observation. Only if Miles had longed for a Touriga…

  7. I’ve seen the new world TN, but only as part of a blend. Sometimes those quirky grapes are only sold at the winery (i.e. Steltzner Pinotage…) TN beat my tannat? Them’s fightin’ words! 🙂

  8. […] Finally, I tried a Touriga Nacional–in fact three of them–in situ, the Douro! I thought two of them were excellent. [Dr. Vino] […]

  9. Sure, Joe, that would be an interesting, off-beat comparison! Bring it!

  10. hey,

    im just a wine fan, but i must say i also love Portuguese wines, love the fruity – chocolate taste Touriga National and a bit of Tinta Roriz. best friend of mine comes from Porto and he usually brings me few bottles from Dao…i just cant get rid of it. BTW have you ever tried SKOVIN wine? Macedonian brand, they have a special one called VRANEC.

  11. […] something not from Napa. It’ll be a trip out of your comfort zone, for sure. But even if that touriga nacional from Portugal (for example) turns out not to be your new favorite, you will be changed. You will […]

  12. I am looking to purchase Touriga Nacional grape vines from the Douro region in Portugal, as well as any other information on these vines.
    Thank you


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