Discovering Portugal and Touriga Nacional

Posted in Uncategorized by EVWG on the January 11th, 2007

touriganacional.jpgMr. Wolff was telling me recently about a certain Portuguese wine that he had quite enjoyed. My interest was peaked when he said, “Get this,” And proceeded to roll off the components of a quite extensive blend. What got me was out of a blend of four or five varietals I only recognized one. And that one was alicante, an ancient name for cannonau in Sardegna. It isn’t even used anymore (the name not the grape). Now I’m not saying that I should know these grapes. I am no expert. I am saying that this was most exciting because as a wine geek finding a new treasure trove of varietals is the beginning of a very fun adventure. Mr. Wolff gave me the details of the wine and off I went searching for a bottle. Tinto Fino was the first place that came to mind but I realized She only Does Spanish wines. Tinto Fino has, if you don’t yet know, one of the most concentrated selections of amazing Spanish wine I have seen yet in the city. That’s probably because all they carry is Spanish wine. It is a small selection but man is it great. I will be posting a few words on the mencia grape from the Bierzo region next week that Tinto Fino helped me discover. So I went to visit my friends at Astor Wine and Spirits.
They politely directed me to the small cornered selection of Portuguese wine and after a good once over (which didn’t take too long) I wasn’t seeing the Wolff’s recommendation. So I just sat there staring with confusion and excitement. Which one do I try? I had a Portuguese wine once and it was medium and well balanced. I knew it was a blend but I was at a restaurant and the sommelier was not very informative and I wasn’t sure what was in it but I remember liking it. Although the options were few the prices varied widely. There were a few in the thirty to forty dollar range (one at fifty), one or two in the eighteen to twenty dollar range and the rest (about six or so) were all under ten bucks and of those mostly three or four dollars. What was I to do? Door number one, two or three? I chose door number two. For this blog I don’t like going over twenty and I wasn’t so confident and adventurous about the low end. Not yet. Let’s do some middle ground experimentation.
The bottle I chose had the title SO’. After some exhaustive research I cannot find out whether this is the producer or simply the title of the wine. What I do know is this: The wine is made from one hundred percent touriga nacional, which is one of the almost five hundred indigenous varietals or castas in Portugal. It is a 2001 and has a designation of vinho regional, which I believe is, in comparison to Italian wine laws, somewhere between the vini di tavola and IGT (in Portugal IGT is called IPR). And part of this designation is the Terras Do sado, which is located just south of Lisbon. This wine is from the Terras Do Sado. Something else interesting is that touriga nacional is not known for making regular red wine (vinho tinto). It is actually famous for its use in the fortified port wine. Actually, I read that it is hard to find a port without this grape in the mix. Talk about some new territory.
Mr. Wolff unfortunately could not attend the tasting so Gal and I popped this puppy open and went at it. The initial nose was full of concentrated fruit and had a prominent musty, earthiness to it. It seemed to me right away that this was probably aged in American oak. Underneath the fruit and the must was a hint of pepper and spice that just wanted to come out. We swirled and thought and sniffed and thought and finally got around to the first sip after about five minutes or so of just letting the wine open. The palate was, in my opinion, great. It was medium to full, more on the medium side because I realized that it was still a bit tight. Speaking of tight, one of the things I liked about this wine is that it was balanced when tight with a seamless tannin structure running through it but not overwhelming. Sometimes when a wine is tight I find that one characteristic or another is right on top and as the wine opens everything comes together. It had a mild lingering finish and the body of the wine coated the palate which I believe is a result of the American oak. It was an almost sweet coating but restrained and balanced. It actually added to the smoothness of the wine. After opening a little bit the spices came out more along with hints of bitter chocolate and cinnamon. The tannin increased but not overwhelmingly and because of this wine’s nice acidity it went great with a risotto sautéed with some white wine and porcini mushrooms.
All in all I was very impressed with this wine. The oak was used with restraint, which is nice because American oak can yield some overly buttery, vanilla characteristics. There was a nice balance to it from beginning to end. Gal didn’t have too much input for this bottle but what he did say was that he enjoyed it because it was totally different than any other wine he has had yet. I agree. This wine is very unique and has a hybrid feel to it. Almost like a cross between a cannonau and a cab franc with more depth and color. It is definitely a food wine and I can see why it is so popular for port with its fruit concentration. I am going to try some of door number three just to compare and contrast. Until then if your feeling adventurous and want to try something different but not pay an arm and a leg this is a good one for eighteen bucks. And I’d like to give a shot out to Mr. Wolff for peaking the interest. I am still on a quest for that blend. Cheers!

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