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Texas Wine with a Portuguese Soul

William Chris 3Driving through the Portuguese countryside in the Alentejo wine region, you could be forgiven if you momentarily thought you were in the Texas Hill Country—the sunbaked hills of granite and limestone of eastern Portugal have a striking familiarity. With so much in common, it is no surprise that the grapes that thrive in Portugal have found a welcome home in Texas vineyards.

Lewis Wines, outside of Johnson City, was an early adopter of Portuguese grape varietals. “I started working with Portuguese grapes like tempranillo, touriga nacional, tinta cão and tinta amarela in the first vineyard I ever worked at Pedernales Cellars,” says Doug Lewis, co-owner and winemaker at Lewis Wines. “I thought all of those varieties just grew better than grenache, cabernet sauvignon or sangiovese, and I liked the wines. When I started making my own wine in 2010, I chose a touriga nacional, tempranillo and tinta cão blend and it was named one of the wines of the month in Texas Monthly.”

Because his early viticulture experience was with these Portuguese grapes, Lewis chose touriga nacional, tinta cão, alicante bouschet and arinto for his vines when he planted his own vineyard. “They are all experiments on our estate,” says Lewis, “but the experiment is going well.” Lewis also now manages the nearby Round Mountain Estate, which is also planted primarily with touriga nacional, tinta cão and tempranillo.

Beyond taste, Lewis prefers the Portuguese varietals for his Hill Country vineyards because they are more disease resistant and produce consistently high-quality grapes. 

In addition to using touriga nacional as a blending grape in his Round Mountain Reserve and Round Mountain Rosé, Lewis Wines also produced a Touriga Rosé this year and just released a Hill Country White, a blend of albariño and verdelho. For future release, Lewis is experimenting with two fortified wines—a port-style red and a Madeira-inspired white from arinto and albariño.

Lewis Wines isn’t alone in their enthusiasm for the Portuguese grapes. According to the USDA 2019 Texas Wine Grape Varieties survey, plantings of touriga nacional and alicante bouschet increased by 283 percent and 322 percent in Texas, respectively. Winemakers like Pedernales Cellars, Southold Farm + Cellar, William Chris Vineyards and McPherson Cellars are also incorporating these grapes into their regular offerings in styles from a slightly sparkling pétillant naturel to complex red blends. With so much versatility, expect to find more Portuguese varietals gracing Texas wine labels soon. 

By Kristi Willis

 

Guide to Portuguese Grape Varietals

Portugal shares many grape varieties with neighboring Spain, but often has a different name or spelling for the varietal. 

Varietal

Color

Characteristics

Alicante Bouschet

Red

Originally from France, this grape is popular in Portugal and Spain. Alicante bouschet is one of the few teinturier grapes, a red grape with red flesh instead of the normal clear flesh. Alicante bouschet produces big, bold red wines. Careful! It will stain your teeth.

Alvarinho 

White

Known as albariño in Spain, this grape produces crisp, light white wines with hints of citrus and stone fruit. It is one of the main grapes used in Vinho Verde.

Arinto

White

A native white grape of Portugal, arinto creates a white wine with a little bit more body while offering hints of lemon that pair perfectly with seafood.

Tinta Cão

Red

One of the grapes commonly used in a port blend, tinta cão produces high acid, high tannin wines with bright red fruit that is often compared to nebbiolo. 

Tinta Roriz or Aragonês

Red

More commonly known by the Spanish name tempranillo, tinta roriz/aragonês plays an important part in dry red blends as well as port. 

Touriga Nacional

Red

Considered the finest red grape of Portugal, touriga nacional stars in single varietal wines as well as red blends and port. The grape produces high acid, high tannin wines with deep red fruit. 

Verdelho

White

Known primarily as one of the key grapes of fortified wines from Madeira, verdelho also creates a fine aromatic dry white wine.

 

Texas Winery Portuguese Varietal Offerings

Winery

Wines

4 R Ranch Vineyards and Winery

Portejas Texas Red Wine - touriga nacional port-style wine

Lewis Wines 

2012 Round Mountain Reserve (Portuguese varietal blend)

2019 Round Mountain Rosé

2019 Phillips Touriga Rosé

2019 Hill Country White (blend of albariño and verdelho)

Llano Estacado Winery

2017 Vinho Verde Tinto 

McPherson Cellars

2018 Verde Verde (Vinho Verde style albariño and trebbiano blend)

Reddy Vineyards 

2017 TNT Red Blend (tempranillo and touriga nacional blend)

Southold Farm + Cellar

2019 Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young (Rosé of touriga nacional pétillant naturel)

2018 Little Pieces of A Big Soul (Robert Clay touriga nacional)

2017 Forgone Conclusion (alicante bouschet)

William Chris Vineyards

2015 Touriga Nacional

2017 Touriga Nacional Phillips