Posted by: tomciocco | September 23, 2012


Whether you know it or not, the hellaciously hot Douro River Valley in northern Portugal is (almost) all about  the world’s greatest (arguably) sweet wine, Port (Porto in Portuguese). Dry wine from the Douro is a relatively recent afterthought, at least commercially. Home winemaking was and is still deeply engrained in Portuguese culture, and the Douro is no exception, but the mass acreage in this region is controlled by a dozen or so mostly English-named (longish story) Port houses that lean heavily on the heavy-flavored Port wine mainstay grape variety, Touriga Nacional.

There’s a very good reason for the domination of Touriga Nacional. Port is a fortified wine (an immature “brandy” of sorts added to a sweet wine base) that is made to age for a looooong time, so an inky, rich, almost cloying variety like Touriga Nacional (with the addition of more than a few supporting grapes) has a lot of “stuffing” and enamel-dissolving tannins to allow  it to very slowly shed a closed, coarse, and simple character in youth, and evolve an almost incredible complexity and sweet depth over decades and decades…

But what works  for Port, doesn’t work nearly as well for dry red wine. In the setting of a dry “table” wine, Touriga Nacional can inject a pruney, thick, cough syrupy, alcoholic, character into a wine in which TN comprises only 25%-30% of the blend, drowning out lots of other very interesting and more elegant varieties. But in somewhat lesser years, when a Port vintage is not “declared”, a large quantity of TN becomes available that traditionally had been made into other simpler Port styles. But Lord knows that dry red outsells sweet Port that requires cellaring by an order of magnitude, so the scads of too TN-heavy dry wines proliferate…

This is a blend that looks to re-balance the Port palette of grapes to better suit dry wine, and to show you just how many native varieties actually populate Douro’s vineyards, here is are the types and volume percentages of the varieties that go into this blend: 22.5% Touriga Franca, 22.5% Tinta Roriz, 16.5% Tinta Amarela, 10.5% Tinta Barroca, 8.5% Tinto Cao, 8% Sousao, 6.5% Tinta Francisca, and just 2% Touriga Nacional. As an aside, with dry wine or sweet, the Portuguese are the world’s master blenders of grape varieties, and this wine show that in spades…

Portuguese dinners almost invariably begin with a hearty soup, so I made one of the many permutations of the very famous “Caldo Verde”: collard greens, potatoes, white beans, and chourico, to which this version added rutabagas, carrots, red pepper flakes, etc. The main course was another take on the traditional wine and herb-marinated sirloin steak with a fried egg, and mixed broiled peppers in a garlic and marjoram vinaigrette on the side. 










Sogevinus “850” Vinho Regional Duriense Tinto 2010

Bright, purple tinted saturated garnet color. Fairly elegant and complex nose of blackberries, red currants, dry earth, dried flowers, sweet spices, toasted fennel seed bread, pine tar and black tea. The wine is medium in body with a really nice textured heft, and a great acid tannin balance overall that frames complex and soft flavors of cherry, strawberry jam, plum, and tart cranberry fruit punctuated with cracked black pepper and pine sap. Quite long and dry “raspberry creme” finish.


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