It was only in the 1990s that Portugal’s Douro region started to produce red table wines in a big way, using the varieties that had long gone into its famous ports. The international success of those dry reds (more blends than varietals), coupled with a renewed South African will to experiment, has led to a minor proliferation of unfortified Cape reds made from the port varieties. From, that is, the small selection of those varieties grown here – there are many dozens of indigenous grapes grown in the Douro, often in field blends.
Allesverloren and a few other producers have been making varietal tinta barocca for decades (I’m interested to note that the Swartland has a much greater hectarage of port grapes than Calitzdorp and the Klein Karoo). Platter’s 2000 listed half a dozen tinta producers, but none of varietal touriga nacional until Die Krans 2001, listed in 2003. The current (2016) edition of Platter’s lists 5 makers of tinta roriz (aka tempranillo), 11 of tinta barocca, 11 of touriga nacional, and one each of touriga franca and trincadeira/tinta amarela – and I’d bet the 2017 edition will have more.
The fairly numerous blends are unusefully gathered in Platter’s under “Red blends, other” – I reckon it’s about time for a special category of “Portuguese red blends”. Especially as there has been since 2013 an official “Calitzdorp blend” (unfortunately without enough publicity or media attention), of which Portuguese varieties must constitute 70%.
Incidentally, on the varietal note: it’s about time that the universal local misspelling “tinta barocca” is terminated, starting with the authorities who have the mistake entrenched in their list of permitted varieties. The Port Producers Association should also get it right. It is not like “cinsaut”, where you can add in an excrescent L if you’re feeling fancy, and be merely eccentric in international terms. For this grape, there is no alternative: It is “tinta barroca” – two Rs, one C. That’s that.
Anyway, in January I wrote enthusiastically on this site (see here) about the small but exciting wave of South African wines from Portuguese varieties, prompted by my pleasure in Fledge & Co’s unpretentious Souzão 2014 (only tiny quantities, as with the 2015). I declared then my New Year resolution of systematically exploring the Portuguese category – but time and laziness have dictated otherwise. Every now and then, however, I have come across more examples, and they seldom disappoint, whether blends or monovarietal.
I see that Fledge’s Red Blend 2012 is still available at Wine Cellar in Cape Town (listed as “Big Red” for some reason), perhaps because at R275 it’s hardly cheap (buy now). It’s good though – smarter than the 2014 follow-up called Red (believe it or not, from a producer with many witty, good wine names), which is more lightweight, though charming. It includes some shiraz, by the way. A better Portuguese blend on its way to the shelves comes from another little-known producer, Clayton Wines, under the Jolly Roger brand (Roger Clayton is the owner – a Scot hooked by the Swartland). This one is called Piruju 2015: dry, fresh, juicy, delicious, and worth looking out for.
Piruju is old-oaked and made very much in non-interventionist style, as are many of the new Portuguese-variety wines, which have clearly interested the avant garde. That’s certainly true of the Touriga Nacional 2015 from Joostenberg’s Small Batch range (R175), yet another wine showing how much interest, character and delight (and often great value) is to be found at the Myburghs’ historic Paarl winery.
Touriga is probably the finest of the grapes used, for varietal wines and blends. With regard to the latter this is neatly illustrated by Axe Hill’s Machado 2014 (60% touriga), which I find superior to the Distinta from souzão and tinta. But both wines have improved recently. As for the strength of varietal touriga, witness also the examples from Boplaas and Sijnn.
I’m not sure I have yet had any modern local Portuguese-variety wine, blended or otherwise, that I’d decline to drink. Something far from true for cab and shiraz!
- Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.