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Grape Profile – Touriga Nacional

Touriga NacionalHelp! I’ve got me self a glass full of violets! I do! I do!

I think every wine writer/aficionado goes through moments where all of their notes seem to run together. Similar descriptors and textures make it appear that we’re tasting the same exact wine over and over again. Sometimes this is laziness and sometimes it’s the result of tasting too many wines in one peer group. When we speak of Portugal, we are often speaking of one particular grape that is the main culprit for my nose filling with lush, vibrant, purple violets: Touriga Nacional. Granted, there are 200+ native grapes grown and used here in Portugal and in combinations that would make your head spin. We’ve smelled and tasted some of the oddest things throughout the past few weeks, but if there was to be one “taste of Portugal” you could argue that Touriga Nacional was to provide it.

Here is the intriguing part. We all have our descriptors that we use often, mostly because we are both familiar with those aromas and because they are the aromas that interest us. However, we’ve all come across a tasting note that you just can’t seem to dig up a sensory memory for. For my wife, that is chokecherry. Having grown up with a chokecherry tree in my backyard, I am intimately aware of a chokecherry’s aroma and flavor, but she doesn’t seem have the faintest idea. For many, the aroma of a violet may be completely foreign to those of you in areas like the southwest, were violets are not prone to grow naturally. Yet, if you head into any flower shop, and dip your nose into a dark velvety bunch of purple violets, you will know exactly what I mean. Touriga Nacional is the heart and soul of Portugal as is Tempranillo to Spain, uniquely able to express that same rich floral note, making you think your nibbling on the petal of a violet. However, don’t get any ideas from Wine Library TV, because know that flower shops are not keen on having their customers eat off their plants, regardless of your perfectly reasonable excuse that you’re just trying to expand your sensory memory.

Tourgia Nacional is traditionally the backbone and lifeblood to Port wines. Though Port wine can be made up of 20 or more grapes, Touriga Nacional could be argued to be the defining factor in its makeup. Full of bright acidity and strong tannins, not only does it lend its flavor profile to the wines of Porto, but it also helps with the famous longevity of these noble liquids.

But wait, we’re here to talk about table wines, not Port! Your right! And that’s why I’m so excited! Today, and for what is probably the whole history of wine in Iberia, Touriga Nacional has also been found in table wines throughout Portugal. Traditionally, the Dao and Douro were the only regions to use this grape, but times have changed; and during our recent tasting in Lisbon, we tried amazing wines from all over Portugal based on Touriga Nacional. Blended with everything from native varietals of Portugal to international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

For us, the important facts of a grape are where to find it and what it tastes like:

Flavor (Nose)Profile:

  • Violets and floral notes – The aroma is so powerful that many winemakers use it very sparingly as the floral qualities can make grandma’s perfume cabinet seem restrained! According to the excellent mind-jogging list created by Tom Stevenson over at the Wine-Pages Violet is described as this:

    VIOLET
    Violette (F) Veilchen (G) Violetta (I) Violeta (S)
    Found as part of a silky finish on a number of red wines, particularly Malbec and to a lesser extent Graves.
    Ionones

    Ionones are the volatile chemicals that produce the aroma in wines. Although I am not sure this really helps me because I already know the aroma is there, but I will do my best to seek them out in the next Malbec I try!

  • Blue and Black fruits – Black berries, blueberries, dark and staining overly ripe berries! You know the smell, where the berry begins to border on liquor notes. Think fresh backyard fruit, not store bought sterile under ripe stuff!
  • Spice – Yeah I get spices, but usually as a backdrop to the fruit and flowers. I would elude cocoa as a spice and at times the sweet flavor of allspice that seems to fade in and out as the wine develops.

Flavor (palate)Profile:

  • Fruit - Same as above but think blackberry liquor, not the sweet part, but the intense fruit quality. Actually, why don’t you throw in the seeds too, while you’re at it. Think of when you bite down on a seed and you get that wood/vegetal note. That’s the one I’m referring too!
  • Spice – (Gabriella) From my experience with the grape, I consistently get a black pepper quality that offers that perfect dark exotic flavor that pairs well with most rich foods. It’s never overwhelming to me, nor does it take precedent over the floral notes, but it always seems to creep up, especially on the nose!
  • Flowers – I don’t make it a practice to munch on flowers, but I will say that the way in which new flowers smell sweet, almost fruit like, is the exact floral note I get. I remember as a child there was a flower that grew in the fields of the park by our house. I forget the name, but if you snapped off a flower and bit into it, a small but intense sweetness filled your mouth. This is what I, personally, think of when I taste this wine.
  • Texture – This wine can be quite large with an overwhelming body. The positive side is that the tannins tend to be very fine. Almost chalky but with a nice acidity to freshen the mouth. I love the play between acid and tannin with this grape, allowing wines that are big but also fresh and alive.

A few other things we need to cover to be complete. When you see the bunches on the vine, you’ll notice that they are very small grapes. This is said to be why they are so intense, cramming so much flavor into such a small space. Also, being that Portugal has over 200+ native grape varietals, grapes are often mis-identified and confused with others. So here’s a short list of synonyms for Touriga Nacional:

Bical Tinto, Mortágua, Mortágua Preto, Preto Mortágua, Touriga, Touriga Fina, Tourigao, Tourigo Antigo, Tourigo do Dão and Turiga

Also due to it’s intense flavors you are starting to see people using this grape in wines of California, Australia and a few other places where they are experimenting to see if they can harness this grapes intensity in their wines. Search one out! Tell us what you think. Then post a note in our forum!

Feel free to contact us with any questions!

Cheers,

Ryan Opaz

  • Bill

    Beef, Lamb or Pork?

  • Ryan

    Some of each! Really depends on how you make it. I personally think that grill meats are a great pairing for these wines. Especially herb marinated meats…can you say fat lamb chops on the grill? I still have dreams of those we had in France

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    Some of each! Really depends on how you make it. I personally think that grill meats are a great pairing for these wines. Especially herb marinated meats…can you say fat lamb chops on the grill? I still have dreams of those we had in France

  • Bill

    You must have read my mind. Ross and Nancy are coming over this weekend for a round of Portuguese reds (which will appear in the tasting notes section). I'm looking for simple yet tasteful ways to highlight the wines, which actually may or may not be made with Touriga Nacional. Lamb does look good. I'm thinking skewered kabobs with marinated leg of lamb and beef tendorloin and a small rack of pork ribs. There are REALLY LIMITED options for Portuguese wines in Mpls. Looking on-line, France and 44 has four reds, Surdyk's has four or five reds and Byerly's website is too complicated or they don't list wines on-line. I'm leaning towards a 2001 from Evel. Any knowledge of that producer?

  • Ryan

    Actually the Twin Cities has a fabulous selelction. You need to go to Solovino in St.Paul to find a HUGE selection of Portuguese wines. Really worth the long trip(just avoid the bridges)

  • Bill

    You must have read my mind. Ross and Nancy are coming over this weekend for a round of Portuguese reds (which will appear in the tasting notes section). I’m looking for simple yet tasteful ways to highlight the wines, which actually may or may not be made with Touriga Nacional. Lamb does look good. I’m thinking skewered kabobs with marinated leg of lamb and beef tendorloin and a small rack of pork ribs.

    There are REALLY LIMITED options for Portuguese wines in Mpls. Looking on-line, France and 44 has four reds, Surdyk’s has four or five reds and Byerly’s website is too complicated or they don’t list wines on-line. I’m leaning towards a 2001 from Evel. Any knowledge of that producer?

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    Actually the Twin Cities has a fabulous selelction. You need to go to Solovino in St.Paul to find a HUGE selection of Portuguese wines. Really worth the long trip(just avoid the bridges)

  • Bill

    Thanks for the tip, Ryan. I will check them out.

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  • Mary

    off the subject a bit.. I am trying to find somewhere here in the United States that grows tourgia nacional? do you know where I can find information on this?

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan Opaz

    California! Check out http://www.elbloggotorcido.com ElJefe I believe has some growing in Calaveras County. If Not I'm sure he can help you find some elsewhere!Thanks for the question

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  • Peter

    Hi

    your informative piece did not seem to explain what the word Touriga means. I sort of get nacional, but I searched and found no explanation of Touriga’s meaning Tks

    • http://www.ryanopaz.com Ryan

      Great question, I’m asking about it as we speak and we’ll see what people have to say about it. Might just be a name though, not sure myself

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  • http://www.wine-buddy.com Allan

    Hi Ryan, I was struggling with descriptors on Touriga Nacional for the new Portugal page on my website (not having tasted much Touriga in the past – and not yet stocking any) so I took your advice from the Boutique Wineries seminar yesterday and jumped into Able Grape. Given your Iberian bent I found just what I needed on your blog. A great help. Thanks Allan

    • http://catavino.net ryan

      Allan glad you found what you needed and glad you liked AbleGrape!

    • http://www.cortesdecima.pt Carrie Jorgensen

      Allan, Cortes de Cima have been a pioneer in growing the grape in the Alentejo.

      If you are curious to know something about the origin of the grape and the meaning of the name – Touriga Nacional, I wrote a post about that recently here -
      http://cortesdecima.com/general/touriga-a-grape-by-any-other-name-would-smell-as-sweet/

      cheers, Carrie

  • Juan G

    FYI: Ken Volk of “Kenneth Volk Vineyards” in Santa Barbara County has some Touriga Nacional custom planted for himself in Paso Robles. From talking with him recently it sounds like they will be bottling their first vintage of it shortly and will have it released in a few months.

    The guy also produces such great lesser appreciated varieties as Aglianico, Negrette, Cabernet Pfeffer, Mourvedre, Malvasia Bianca, Verdelho, Grenache, Tempranillo, and Petite Sirah not to mention all the mainstream varietals.

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