A couple of recent events came together to make me think about Portuguese grape varieties, particularly the red ones used in making Port wine. First, long-time Beverage People customer Patrick Taylor dropped off a proof copy of his new book, "Making It Into Port." This little book (74 pp.) will soon be published and we will be delighted to offer it to our customers along with other winemaking books. Taylor, who has long made Port-style wines at home himself, does an excellent job of covering the real thing, Portuguese Port, and providing guidance on how to make Port-style wine at home. (For simplicity, I am going to violate the EU rules in the rest of this blog and call all such wines “Port.”)
For his Ports, Taylor notes that he grows Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignane. Those, along with Syrah and a few others, are commonly used to make Port in California and other “New World” locations. In Portugal, however, it is much different. The grapes allowed in Port over there are restricted by official regulations. The most popular are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Roriz. Touriga Francesca and Souzao, a red-fleshed grape prized for its color contribution, also appear.
The second event came about when my wife, Marty White, and I were guests at the Sacramento Home Winemakers annual harvest banquet on Sunday. Over tastes of delicious homemade wines and Russian hors d’oeuvres, we chatted with the friendly members of SHW. One of those, my friend Sonia Baron, had some exciting winemaking news to share. She and three partners have bought a 13-acre ranch that has about 5 acres planted to grapes. Of those, about two acres are Tinta Cão and two acres are Souzao. Her vineyard is located in the Fair Play AVA (American Viticultural Area) in El Dorado County, California. The high elevation of the Fair Play AVA (averaging over 2,000 feet or 610 meters) combined with the hot, dry summer weather make it an ideal location for duplicating the growth of Port grapes. The most popular plantings in the area are Zinfandel, although there are also vineyards with Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, and other traditional reds (in addition to the Port varieties Souzao, Tinta Cão, and Touriga Nacional).
In all of California, the plantings of Port varieties is sparse. The 2014 California Grape Acreage Report from the California Department of Food and Agriculture lists total red wine grape acreage in the state at 310,000 acres. Of that, there are 90 acres of Souzao, 74 acres of Touriga Francesca, and 258 acres of Touriga Nacional. Tinta Roriz presents something of a quandary for reporting purposes. That is because it has the synonym name Tempranillo in Europe and in the U.S. As Tempranillo, it is the heart of the famous Spanish reds of Rioja and is widely planted elsewhere in warm climate zones. It is reported as Tempranillo in the Grape Acreage Report and occupies a relatively larger 973 acres. How much of that is grown by the vineyard owner for use in the Portuguese tradition as Tinta Roriz is not recorded. All the other Port varieties, if grown commercially at all in California, will be found lumped together in the 5,712 acres of “Other Red Wine” varieties. Disregarding those, but counting all of the Tempranillo as Portuguese, gives the Port varieties less than ½ of one percent of California’s red wine grape acreage! By contrast, the most widely planted red, Cabernet Sauvignon, occupies 87,972 acres or 28% of that acreage....