This lesser-known grape variety is undoubtedly an unknown hero in the viticultural universe. It is grown in Portugal and Australia. It is the port wine grape “par excellence”. Its small, thick-skinned berries and low yield are almost worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, it shares a fate similar to many other high-value grape varieties in Europe’s vineyards: gradual replacement by more vigorous grape varieties, despite the fact that they produce less concentrated wines.
In Dão, Touriga Nacional was formerly added to other wines to give them a more complex flavour, a longer ageing potential and more structure. But even there the variety is now hardly cultivated at all.
Touriga Nacional stands as the grape variety for the celebrated port wine vintages of the 1920s and 1930s that achieved top prices at auction. Thanks to its robust constitution it produces very dark, grippy wines with the sumptuous aromas of game and leather to which port wines owe their good reputation. Today’s port wines are based almost exclusively on blends. The proportion of Touriga and its fellow classic Tinta Cão that is used is no doubt a question of cost for the port wine houses.
Strict select harvesting of the grapes was introduced in the Douro Valley in the 1980s to increase yields and boost the average sugar content. In this inaccessible wine terrain, the variety does not appear to be under threat at all. On the contrary, Touriga is apparently gaining importance even in regions where table wine is produced. Like Cabernet Sauvignon in the south of France, it could be used there as an improving grape variety.