22. GRAPE VARIETIES Number 10: Touriga Nacional
This is probably a variety that not too many of you are familiar with. But I remind you that I am writing about grape varieties in my personal order of preference. Touriga Nacional comes from Portugal, which boasts a huge array of grape varieties that are in most cases barely seen anywhere else; it makes brilliant, fascinating, deeply coloured, world-class, spicy, ageworthy wine. Â In fact, were it not for the few great examples of Merlot, including ChÃ¢teau PÃ©trus, I would have put Touriga Nacional â€“ and one or two other varieties that you will be reading about in future issues â€“ in front of Merlot.
Touriga Nacional is most famously found in port, and is grown all over the Douro (the port region). It is universally recognised as being the best port grape. However, since it has become difficult for the producers in the Douro to sell all their production of port, they are making more and more table wines, with the Touriga Nacional being widely used. Quite right too. The Douro is definitely the region to watch currently for the finest Touriga Nacional table wines. It does have a major drawback: it produces extremely low yields; in the Douro each vine produces on average around 300 grams of grapes when other varieties will produce 2 kilos. The vine is vigorous and healthy (not susceptible to fungal diseases), and needs to be pruned very hard; it produces tiny, jet-black-coloured grapes.
It is also widely grown in the DÃ£o, where it is required under the DOC regulations to make up at least 20% of each wine. Although the DÃ£o has come a long way recently in terms of quality, it has yet to reach its full potential â€“ though a bottle of Quinta dos Roques, possibly the DÃ£o's finest producer, drunk in Portugal a few years ago, rates as one of the highest points of my drinking career. As it happens, there is stock of the 2007 vintage of Quinta dos Roques in my shop.
It is also grown in Australia, where it is respected as a useful ingredient in port-type wines. A few table wines are made as well. And a small amount is grown in the US.
So here is a seriously underrated grape variety, just waiting to be discovered!