Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Touriga Nacional

Given the recent weather, it seems my confidence in spring, patio parties and rosé may have been slightly premature. Still, we soldier on and hope for better weather to come! This week,  we'll be looking at a popular Portuguese red grape, Touriga Nacional.

Touriga Nacional is extensively used in port wines, with it's acidity and strong tannins acting as a 'backbone' of sorts to ground the sweetness and intensity of port. In addition to port, however, the grape is also used throughout Portugal to make still, dry red wines. It is particularly popular in the Duoro and Dao regions -- two of Portugal's hotbeds (in both a literal and figurative sense) of wine production. Touriga Nacional vines yield small clusters of grapes (or 'berries') with thick skin. Although small berries means lower yields, the grape is able to survive the searing summer heat of Portugal's Duoro region. When vinified on its own, it produces wine with intense aromas of berries, violets and floral notes, as well as strong tannins. It can also be blended with other grapes, such as Touriga Franca (aka Touriga Francesca) in order to add finesse to the wine and making it slightly lighter. It is also sometimes blended with  Tempranillo (which is usually called 'Tinta Roriz' in Portugal).

In addition to Portugal, Touriga Nacional is also grown in Australia (where it is usually just called 'Touriga') as well as parts of Chile and Argentina. No matter what region, the grape tends to produce wines that are powerful, intensely purfumed and have strong tannins. This makes them perfect for pairing with steaks and other robust meats, as well as heavy cheeses, such as double- (or even triple-)cream brie and camambert. It's also a great barbecue red, pairing well with sausages and grilled veggies. In short, it's a relatively little-known powerhouse grape that is sure to please with a good meal!

The Short Version
Names: Touriga Nacional, Touriga, Mortágua, Tourigo Antigo.
Flavour Profile: Intense floral and berry notes with strong tannins. 
Best-Known Regions: Portugal (Dao and Duoro in particular), Australia.
Price Range: $12-$50
Food Pairings: Steak, red meats, soft cheese, grilled vegetables

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