PORTUGUESE GRAPE VARIETIES
BASTARDO - The Bastardo grape is generally not as highly regarded as other Port varieties, particularly the prized Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa. The vine's greatest virtue is the high natural sugar content of its grapes.
SOUZAO - Dark red grape grown to give color to ports made in the Duoro Valley of Portugal. Although this red-wine indigenous to northern Portugal, it's not widely grown there. Souzão has met with greater success in California where Paul Masson made a Souzao port-style wine in 1968. Vigorous vines produce one of the only grapes in which the juice contains pigment resulting in brilliant rich colored port-style wines with luscious fruit flavors.
TINTA RORIZ - Finest Spanish red grape variety with delicate strawberry, red cherry spice nuances with tobacco notes and deep color with lively character. Vigorous upright shoots produces mid-size, think-skinned fruit subject to powdery and downy mildew. Called Tempranillo in California, the name, from "temprana," or "early," refers to its trait of ripening early. Of the top varietals, Tinta Roriz is the most variable in quality. High in vigor, moderate in productivity and highly resistant to heat and aridity, it grows best on hot, dry south-facing schist slopes, away from water, with shelter from wind. Such siting helps curb the vine’s vigor and also helps it avoid rot, to which it is susceptible.
The Tinta Roriz produces thick-skinned, deeply-colored grapes not too high in acidity which yield masculine wines of firm tannic structure, excellent complexity and distinctive resiny fragrance.
TINTA MADEIRA - Identified as a Portuguses red grape by U. C. Davis in 1963 for use in port wines. Unknown on the Portuguese mainland, there is a variety called Tinta de Madeira grown on the island of Madeira)
TINTA CAO - A native of Portugal, Tinta Cao is one of the oldest Douro varieties having be grown cultivated there since at least the 16th century. One of the highest quality port varietals, the low yielding vines produce tiny, compact bunches of small berries. Of moderately high vigor, it thrives in cooler areas, and the thick skin of the berries contributes to its resistance to disease. The vine’s name means “red dog,” a grape that bites when not ripe.
TOURIGA FRANCISCA - Related to the Touriga Nacional vine, though more fragile. Moderately vigorous and low yielding, it thrives in warm climates and relatively fertile soils. Thick skinned grapes grow in delicate clusters that may not survive drought conditions. Very high in tannin and extremely highly scented, it is an important contributor of structure and balance.
TOURIGA NATIONAL - widely recognized as the finest grape for making traditional port. The grape calls the northern Douro valley home and is probably related to Touriga Francesca with links to Moscetel Galego and the Tinta Negra Mole of Maderia. The grape grows on vigorous vines that thrive in warm, dry climates. Grapes mature early and have intense color and aroma. The vines bear tight clusters of thick-skinned, concentrated, tiny blue-black berries which yield only about nine to ten ounces of grapes (compared to roughly 4.4 pounds) per vine. It has excellent acid balance and aromatic components but, because of its relatively low yield it is blended with other varieties to make traditional port-style wines.
The grape provides deep color and rich flavors to port.
NOBLE VINIFERA GRAPE VARIETIES
BARBARA - The second most grown grape in Italy behind Sangiovese, Barbera is the everyday wine in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. The highest quality grapes are grown under strict government regulation in the Barbera d’ Alba and Barbera d’ Asti regions. A vigorous vine that grows particularly well in warm climates and poor soils, Barbera produces moderately sized, tight bunches of small, black berries. The vine is hearty but somewhat susceptible to leaf role virus.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON - Cabernet Sauvignon is acknowledged as the king of the noble grapes. The offspring of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc and a native of the Bordeaux region of France, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted and important grape of the five dominant varieties in the great wines of the Medoc.
While Cabernet Sauvignon can thrive in a variety of settings, the vines do best in moderately warm, semi-arid regions with long growing seasons. The grapes like well-drained but not-too-fertile soils and are quick to reflect their environment in the wines they produce. Cabernet Sauvignon berries are small and spherical with thick black skins that makes them resistant to disease and spoilage.
It is the tannins in the thick skins and the high solids to juice ratio that give Cab its distinctive favors and reputation for longevity.
MISSION - No one knows just when the name “Mission” was given to the grapes brought from Mexico to Baja then to Alta California and finally to the American southwest by the Jesuits and Franciscans who established the Spanish missions in the new world. Spanish researchers have recently found that a little known Spanish grape called Lista Prieto is identical to the Mission grape. Mission vines are strong and vigorous with thick trunks and stout canes supporting large, dark green leaves and loose bunches of red-skinned grapes.
SYRAH - Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape and is indigenous to the northern Rhone region of southeastern France. Syrah is an early ripening grape prone to heat stress and over-ripe fruit can result in flat, flabby wine. Syrah vines need vigilant vineyard practices to produce quality grapes. Syrah can be a vigorous vine so many growers are careful to manage vine canopy to allow for plenty of stippled sunlight on the grapes without sunburning. Syrah is an early ripening grape prone to heat stress and over-ripe fruit can result in flat, flabby wines with a “burnt” character.
PETITE SIRAH - In 1880 Dr. Francois Durif developed a new grape variety he piously named for himself. Durif came to California in 1884 and in fact may have been labeled as Petite Sirah. By 1897, Phylloxera had destroyed the last of the true Syrah and what growers had taken to calling Petite Sirah (Durif) was widely planted as a replacement for Mission vines. Petite Sirah can produce four to eight tons of fruit per acre. The vines are sturdy and thrive in many soils producing big clusters of small, thick-skinned black grapes. Favoring warm climates, the grapes are somewhat prone to sunburn and fairly tight clusters are subject to rot when damp. Petite Sirah’s high skin-to-juice ratio produces wines with high tannins and acidity, thus the ability to age.
SANGIOVESE - Sangiovese is the predominant red grape of Italy. Thought to be a native of the Tuscan region, the use of the grape to make wine probably predates Roman times. Sangiovese grows best in hot, dry climates at elevations between 500 and 1,500 feet. The vines are vigorous and produce highly variable yields. Grapes are medium to medium-large in size with a relatively thin skin of purplish black. Slow to mature and late to ripen, Sangiovese is fairly disease resistant although subject to raisening when overexposed to the sun and rot when exposed to late season moisture .
ZINFANDEL - Research by Dr. Carole Meredith and Croatian scientists have determined that Zinfandel and the indigenous Croatian grape Crljenak are the same. Zinfandel vines produce large, reddish-black neutrally favored berries that form medium to large compact clusters. Able to adapt to a variety of soils, Zinfandel vines are of medium vigor and can yield four to nine tons of fruit per acre. Characteristically, Zinfandel berries ripen unevenly and tend to raisin.
WHITE PORT GRAPES
CHARDONNAY - Recent UC Davis DNA fingerprinting have determined that in fact Chardonnay is the result of a cross between Pinot and Gouais blanc varieties. Now, the belief of origin is that the Romans brought Gouais blanc to France from Coatia and widely planted by French peasants.
Chardonnay is a relatively easy vine to cultivate and has the ability to adapt to differing growing conditions. Highly vigorous, Chardonnay thrives in regions with moderately long growing seasons and favors chalk, clay, and limestone soils. Chardonnay vines can yield up to five tons per acres but wine quality can suffer at this high yield. A thin-skin, early ripener, Chardonnay is susceptible to spring frosts and problems related to millerandage, coulure, powery mildew. Berries are relatively small, fragile, and prone to oxidation.
VIOGNIER - Origin of the once common grape on the terraced slopes of the northern Rhone Valley in the Condrieu region of France is steeped in misty legend. Perhaps the most widely favored tale finds Viognier’s ancient ancestors cultivated on the island of Vis in Dalmatia. DNA research at UC Davis indicates the grape is closely related to the northwest Italian Piedmont grapes Freisa and Nebbiolo.
Grown on hearty but low yielding vines, the soft-skinned, deep yellow Viognier can be prone to powdery mildew and other vineyard diseases. Vines thrive in terrior with well drained soils and warm, long growing seasons.
American Port Wine Grapes