Touriga nacional is best known as a Port variety, but it can play a compelling role in table wines, too. Although the grape has been planted in this country for a long time, it typically slipped into blends – mostly fortified –unacknowledged. It’s contribution of flavour and structure is no small thing, though, and the future for touriga as both varietal and blended wines in this country is a rosy one.
Also known as
In Australia, touriga nacional is often shortened simply to touriga, but there is another important touriga, touriga franca (or touriga francesa), so this can cause confusion. Touriga nacional has several localised synonyms but none are in wider use.
What touriga nacional tastes like
With intense fruit in a blueberry and dark berry spectrum, touriga nacional typically also shows a lifted fragrance of violets in a wine’s youth, and it can have both leathery and minty notes. Tannins are a big feature of the variety, so expect a drying and grippy palate on most wines.
Vineyard & winemaking
A very low-yielding vine that produces bunches of small berries, touriga nacional grapes have a high skin-to-juice ratio, and those skins are on the thick side, so intense tannin is typically a feature of the wines. No doubt, this is why the grape is frequently blended, for both table and fortified wines, as it contributes concentrated fruit flavours and assertive structure that can be overwhelming when bottled solo. However, with careful extraction, varietal wines can be compelling, emphasising lifted floral notes and notable but balanced tannins.
Where is touriga nacional grown?
One of the five principal grapes for making Port in northern Portugal’s Douro Valley, touriga nacional is also grown in the Dāo, as well as further south, for table wines. Prior to phylloxera, touriga nacional was heavily planted, but like so many European grapes that provided viticultural challenges, it was not replanted on the same scale, with growers instead favouring higher producing and more reliable varieties. It is undergoing something of a renaissance, though, with its use for high-quality table wine increasingly recognised, while its vital contribution to Port has never been in doubt. Touriga nacional does crop up minorly in Spain, and it has only recently, and a little controversially, been approved as an allowable variety in Bordeaux, where it is seen, along with three other red varieties and two white, as a means of adjusting to a warming climate – only a modest inclusion of any of these in vineyards is allowed.
Touriga nacional around the world
In the New World, touriga nacional is notably grown in South Africa, Brazil and the USA, principally in California.
Touriga nacional in Australia
Touriga nacional has long had a small foothold in this country, mainly to blend with shiraz and durif to make Port-style wines. Many of the oldest plantings are in Rutherglen, while there is also a meaningful presence in South Australia’s Langhorne Creek and the Riverland. Being outside the top 20 grapes planted here, it’s not easy to know how much is in the ground, as it’s not itemised in most vintage reports and planting records. It was perhaps Yarra Yering that brought touriga nacional some broader attention when Dr Bailey Carrodus planted it alongside four other Port varieties in his Yarra Yering vineyard in the Yarra Valley. That was to make a vintage fortified called ‘Portsorts’ (which was later changed to ‘Potsorts’, as Port is a legally controlled name), then later to contribute to ‘Dry Red No. 3’, incorporating all five varieties. Later again, current winemaker Sarah Crowe introduced ‘New Territories’, a blend of Shiraz and Touriga (both planted in 1990). Over in South Australia, Vinteloper’s Dave Bowley made his first straight Touriga Nacional in 2010, becoming somewhat of a touchstone for the variety bottled solo. Today, Steve Pannell is perhaps making the most notable use of the variety in a number of blends and varietal wines for his Koomilya and S.C. Pannell labels.
Photo of touriga nacional grapes seen here, courtesy of Ricca Terra.
Some of the best Australian touriga nacional
Battle of Bosworth
Hither & Yon
Koomilya (various blends)
S.C. Pannell (solo and blends)
Terra do Rio (Ricca Terra)
Yarra Yering (various blends)