With the Varsity Blind Wine Tasting Match coming up at the end of February, Oxford University Blind Tasting Society are champing at the bit for practice. So charged with arriving at a Portuguese theme to vex these talented tasters (whose number included the super-sharp Wine Australia University Wine Champions 2012), I alighted on a Touriga Nacional taste-off with a twin-barrelled challenge.
First, to identify which wine in each pair of four flights was a single varietal Touriga Nacional and which a Touriga Nacional blend. Second, to work out the region of origin of each pair – the Alentejo, Dão, Douro or Lisboa?
I confess that, much as I’ve voiced my scepticism about touting Touriga Nacional as Portugal’s flagship variety (where blends of this noble yet assertive variety are the norm), in a fit of amnesia, I quite forgot how difficult it would be to procure single varietal Touriga Nacional wines in the UK.
In the event, though I had to source some wines from Portugal, I pulled together a fine line up:
Flight 1: Alentejo
Herdade dos Grous 23 Barricas 2008 (VR Alentejano) – 60% Syrah, 40% Touriga Nacional (14%) €22.90 www.garrafeiranacional.com
Herdade do Esporão TN 2008 (VR Alentejano) - 100% Touriga Nacional (14.5%) €21.90 www.garrafeiranacional.com
Flight 2: Lisboa
Quinta de Chocapalha CH by Chocapalha Touriga Nacional 2008 (VR Lisboa) – 100% Touriga Nacional (14%) €24.80 www.garrafeiranacional.com
Quinta de Chocapalha Tinto 2008 (VR Lisboa) – 33% Tinta Roriz, 22% Syrah, 22% Touriga Nacional, 11% Touriga Franca, 10% Castelão, 2% Alicante Bouschet (13.5%) £12.95 at Robersons
Flight 3: Dão
Julia Kemper Tinto 2008 (DOC Dão) – 60% Touriga Nacional 15% Tinta Roriz 15% Alfrocheiro 10% Jaen (13.5%) £110.70/6 bottles at www.corkingwines.com
Julia Kemper Touriga Nacional 2009 (DOC Dão) - 100% Touriga Nacional (%) £22.95 at www.halifaxwinecompany.com
Flight 4: Douro
Prats & Symington Post Scriptum 2010 (DOC Douro) – Touriga Franca 50%, Touriga Nacional 22%, Tinta Roriz 17%, Tinta Barroca 11% (13%) £122.78/6 bottles www.vintagemarque.com
Altano Quinta do Ataíde Reserva 2008 (DOC Douro) - 100% Touriga Nacional (14%) £12.95 at www.tanners-wines.co.uk (2009 vintage).
Most gratifyingly the wines were, to a bottle, well received and provoked “no shortage of descriptors – there was lots to say about them,” said former Wine Australia UWC team captain James Flewellen.
Thanks to their sweet, ripe brambly fruit – “most reminiscent of Port” – the tasters were quick to identify the Douro wines. There was less consensus about other regions. Some clues? The Alentejo wines were relatively un-aromatic with sweet, ripe fruit and tannins. The Dão duo’s perfume, minerality, elegance and intensity stood out. While the Lisboa wines were similarly fresh, elegant and perfumed, they didn’t share the intensity, tannin structure or minerality of the Dão.
And the principal pointers to the single varietal Touriga Nacional wines? The depth (and bluey-purple brightness) of colour and richness of tannins (Touriga Nacional is low yielding, with small berries, so a high skin to juice ration), plus the variety’s exuberant perfume, which was especially notable for the Lisboa and Dão Tourigas.
As one might expect, the different varieties in the blends brought different textural qualities and notes (perfume and flavour) and, in general, I remain a fan of blends over single varietals. And it seems I am not alone – the society’s favourite wine of the night was Herdade dos Grous 23 Barricas 2008 Syrah/ Touriga Nacional blend, it so happens one of my 50 Great Portuguese wines 2010.
My top Touriga? I’d have to say the floral, fresh and elegant Quinta de Chocapalha CH by Chocapalha Touriga Nacional 2008.