Which Two Grape Varieties Would You Choose?

The Question for the Port Trade for this month is:

Q: If you had to choose just two grapes as the basis for your quality Ports and then build around that foundation with other grapes, which two varieties would you select, and why?

Oscar Quevedo, Marketing Manager & Blogger, Porto Quevedo

The two grapes that we would select would be Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional.

Touriga Franca is very consistent in terms of production and very resistant to diseases. Although the Ports made from this variety show well in the early years, Touriga Franca has a long aging potential. Touriga Franca has its issues as well, tending to hold back on color and tannin due to its thick skins. But with a little tender loving care, this grape can be very expressive, maturing quickly while retaining its solid structure and it expresses an array of perfumed floral aromas.

Touriga Nacional produces dark, tannic and intensely flavored wines with a high level of alcohol. It shows aromas of violets, roses and black (sometimes overly ripe) berries, adding complexity and intensity to any blend. Its share on Port Wine blends is growing, especially on the top end wines. However, it represented not even 4% of the total area of production in the Douro, in 2004. And if we had to choose only one, we would probably choose Touriga Franca.

Miguel Martins, Proprietor, Quinta da Vista Alegre

As I thought when I initially put this question to my team, immediately there arose a discussion and also a few questions, such as: Which style of Port, a strong full-bodied Ruby style or one with lots of potential to mature in casks (Tawny style)? We decided on the grapes that always go into making our best Port wines, regardless of their style. And the answer was exactly as I expected: TOURIGA NACIONAL and TOURIGA FRANCA. Once that was determined, the explanation was easier.

TOURIGA NACIONAL: is a grape with very high enological potential (mother of the Porto grapes), the ideal grape to start a blended wine, with a high concentration of sugar/high alcoholic potential, also with a lot of color and good acidity. These characteristics grant the wine an extraordinarily consistent structure. The sensitivity to oxidation is very low, with a very high development potential, particularly in oak. This grape blends extremely well with Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Trincadeira and Tinta Barroca. The Touriga Nacional grape provides the wine with complex aromas of very mature red and black fruits with floral hints, mainly to violet and sometimes to rockrose. On the palate it is full-bodied, soft and warm, with round and persistent tannins.

TOURIGA FRANCA: We choose this grape as the second, even though it is not the consensus as an exceptional grape amongst other winemakers. But we are talking about the Douro Region, and more precisely the sub region of the “Cima Corgo”, where the terroir makes all the difference; the climate, the soil and the exposure to the sun, naturally prevents high production per hectare. Like Touriga Nacional, this grape also has great enological potential in the Douro’s growing conditions. Good concentration of sugar / alcohol, very intense colour with balanced acidity, providing the wine with very good structure. The wine usually has a very intense floral aroma, sometimes of roses and rockroses (this is the main difference that is evident between TN and TF). It offers great balance between the fruit and tannins, is full bodied, with very persistent and long-lasting fruity flavor; and offers excellent capacity for maturation in oak.

So utilizing these two grapes in a blend, are indeed a fantastic start when creating a top Port Wine. And in fact, these two grapes are present in all red Ports, including ours!

Miguel Braga, Owner & Winemaker, Quinta do Mourão (S. Leonardo)

Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional. Touriga Franca is for me, the most complete of all grape varieties, fruity, sweet, the queen of Douro, the most representative of Douro and in color, flavor and taste is very representative of all the amazing things that the Douro possesses.

Touriga Nacional because it represents everything that is hard in the Douro. The grape is small, it is difficult to take care of, yet it delivers very deep color and taste. So in the blend of these two grapes we have perfect reflections of the Douro; beautiful, breathtaking but hard, hot and powerful, the perfect image.

Luis Sottomayor, Chief Enologist, Sogrape Vinhos, SA

In the Douro we have two grape varieties which are always a safe choice and have already given proof regarding their quality – Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. These two grape varieties have confirmed that no matter how good the vintage has been their wines constantly reveal quality levels above the general average, showing clean and intense aromas, with good phenolic structure.

On the other hand, and looking at the question from the viticulture perspective, both Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz are two grapes that adapt very well to the Douro region, with healthy resistance to really hot years or humid and cold years as has been happening recently. Of course these are not the only good grape varieties, and others exist that have also conquered my great affection, and perhaps able to produce superior quality wines when compared to Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. But I have no doubts that to build a wine with two good and strong pillars, the varieties mentioned above are effectively a guarantee.

Paula Sousa, Marketing & Tourism Manager, Quinta Nova de Nossa Sra. do Carmo (Amorim)

After speaking to our resident winemaker (Pedro Pina Cabral), we can say that it’s a difficult answer because we really prefer field blends for Port.

But academically we could say:
- Touriga Franca for structure (backbone of tannins and color) and complex aromas (black fruit, balsamic, and other).
- Touriga Nacional: for freshness (natural acidity), structure (good tannins) and aromas (floral, berries, and other)

Dirk van der Niepoort, Proprietor, Niepoort Vinhos

It goes against the logic and tradition of Port & Douro to talk about two varieties (already better than just to talk all the time about Touriga Nacional).

Clearly IF, one would have to talk about two varieties I would consider Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz the ones. Touriga Franca is probably the most important variety in the Douro. It combines lots of concentration with a unique finesse and purity. Tinta Roriz is also very important in the Douro and it can produce fantastic, powerful wines … to very dilute and thin wines, but when properly cared for, it is a very important and great grape.

Jorge Moreira, Oenologist, Quinta de la Rosa (also: Real Companhia Velha and Poeira)

I would choose Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, they are both very complete grapes and with lots of personality. They also complete each other very well; Touriga Franca for the middle palate and mouth feel and Touriga Nacional for its superb structure and grip.

Pedro Sa, Oenology Director, Sogevinus Fine Wines

Portugal´s Douro Valley offers a singular variety of grapes that produce exceptionally rich, dense and complex wines. The great success and world of Port wine-making is due to having long ago found the best balance between different grape varieties, soils, micro-climates and even different years -- thus creating an extraordinary family of Port wines, renowned for their wonderful wide range of character and aging potential. For all of the above reasons, that diversity is an art of hundreds of years of experience. So called, the art of blending, is today what all winemakers in the Douro enjoy doing most and produces the greatest wines. There is no magic formula because any blend with the varieties of grapes in the Douro should be better than the sum of its part.

Sogevinus fine wines blend with all types of Douro varietals, made in the vineyard or wine already made that can best extract the most beneficial qualities of each grape. Naturally, not all mixtures of varieties are suitable for all kinds of Port wine. So to make a kind of “Colheita” we choose a blend of grape varieties which are quite different from the blend of varieties we choose to make a Vintage Port.

Miles Edlmann, Research Viticulturalist, Symington Family Estates

This is really a question for blenders, and as a viticulturist I’m afraid that I spend little time in the tasting room. But from a viticultural perspective the obvious first choice is Touriga Nacional. Its infamous fruit set problems have generally been overcome with recent field and clonal selections, and it is now almost certainly the variety that causes fewest headaches during the growing season. Its berries are small, with thick skins, and hang in loose, well-aerated bunches. This makes it very resistant to fungal diseases, unlike the Tinta Amarela. It doesn’t attract the European grapevine moth (like the Francesa) and nor is it much loved by the leafhoppers which often cause trouble in the Roriz. It rarely dehydrates as badly as the Barroca, which can sometimes raisin before it gets properly ripe. And speaking of which, it also ripens considerably better than the Tinto Cão, providing well-balanced fruit with sugar, acidity, colour and tannins all present and accounted for. It does have a rather floppy posture in the vineyard, and can lose the basal leaves when it gets hot and dry, but it is remarkably resilient under our conditions. Correct canopy management is therefore essential.

Since we have more or less ruled out further options for viticultural reasons, my second grape variety is chosen based purely on aesthetics. I’m undecided between the fantastic autumn display of the Francesa, and the fruit of the Alicante Bouschet. The Francesa is spectacular on a broad scale, but could there be a more delicately perfect colour than the inside of an Alicante grape?

Cristiano van Zeller, Proprietor, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria

Many thanks for another interesting question. Here’s a quick update on our recent growing conditions. Harvest is getting close very fast. It will be a difficult one, both in terms of managing the grapes at harvest and for the region as a whole. The weather has been particularly weird, with lots of rain throughout the year and temperatures out of control (not enough heat at times, some at the wrong times, cold at the wrong times too and so on), affecting everybody’s ability to fight off mildew and oidium, followed by a couple of days of extreme heat (including at night) around the 24th of June; just when a lot of the grapes were beginning to gain colour. This has provoked some “burning” of the grapes, especially in Tinta Barroca in the more exposed places.

On the whole the region’s initial expected production of just over 300.000 pipes (some 165.000.000 litres) is now diminished by some 20% to 240.000 pipes. In any case and thanks to our continuous efforts and careful surveillance of our vineyards, this has barely affected Quinta Vale D. Maria and the rest of our vineyards in the Rio Torto. In fact and like so many other good producers in the region, we have a very balanced production in quantity and a very, very promising one in quality, weather permitting until harvest. The temperatures have been quite mild during the day and cool during the night. My favourite. Like in 2007 & 2008 and 2004 & 1994.

Now for the real question:
If I had to choose only two grape varieties I would hesitate a lot between selecting Touriga Franca, Sousão, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Francisca. To choose only two is a really tricky challenge. No two grapes can, in my opinion, epitomise what I am looking for in Port. Let me try making some combinations that I think would work as a solid base:
Touriga Nacional / Tinta Francisca (the old and original base of Quinta de Roriz’ greatest Ports – for longevity and power with freshness).

Touriga Franca / Sousão (for strongly flowery aromatics, colour and smooth power).
Touriga Franca / Tinta Francisca (for real balance, elegance and freshness).

The other options of combinations:
Touriga Nacional / Touriga Franca is a classic, a very good one, but lacking in balance, freshness and longevity. Needs other varieties to balance things out.

Touriga Nacional / Sousão is another classic (Noval used (uses?) it a lot as a base). Great power, but needs other varieties for elegance and freshness. Could be too rustic.

In reality this is a wonderful exercise, but not more than that as I clearly would never use any of these combinations alone. Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca, even in small quantities, make wonders into the blend. The combination of the 4 grape varieties that I chose above is near perfection, but one would need all 4 of them together. But then and when one starts to think about the rest, what about Tinta Amarela? And Bastardo, Donzelinho Tinto, Tinta da Barca and so on, and so on? Port is the result of terroir, man and the extraordinary biodiversity we have planted in the region. It is unique in every sense. And for as much fun as such an exercise is, as the one we did above, maybe, Port is not Port without all that diversity.

A Question for the Port Trade appears in every other FTLOP newsletter, sharing this space with Port Personalities: In Focus. There were ten responses to this month’s question offering a variety of viewpoints as diverse as the grapes of the Douro.

By | 2016-11-18T10:24:01+00:00 August 26th, 2011|Categories: Questions for the Trade|0 Comments

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