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Touriga Franca

October 3, 2013

Although not as highly revered as its cousin Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca is nevertheless, one of the most important grape varieties in the Douro Valley in Portugal.  Its origins are hazy and most experts agree that it is a fairly young grape variety, possibly spawned in the 1930s or 40s.  Its original name was Touriga Francesa but was changed at the beginning of the 21st century after apparent confusion with an obscure grape named Touriga Francisca, with some still referring to the grape with its initial name.  But no matter what you call it, Touriga Franca or Touriga Francesa is increasingly becoming a popular variety while also continuing its important historical role in its birthplace.

Where does Touriga Franca Grow?

Although Touriga Franca has made forays into some New World vineyards in the United States and Australia (where winemakers often use it in Port-styled blends), the majority of Touriga Franca plantings remain in its homeland.

Portugal - On the tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Touriga Franca plays a prominent role in the wines coming from the Douro Valley. And although it can be found sporadically around the country, the vast majority of plantings are found on the steep slopes alongside the Douro River in the north of Portugal.  In fact, it is the most widely planted grape in the region and accounts for about one-fifth of the vineyard space.

Much like its cousin Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca is able to thrive in this harsh environment because the vigor of the vine is tempered by the aridity and climatic extremes of the valley.  This results in the vine concentrating its energy on its fruit, which in turn develops the lovely flavors that are so appreciated.

Portugal Producers to Look For: Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca, Dow's, Warre's, Sandeman, Quinta do Noval, Quinta do Vesuvio, Quinta do Vallado, Adriano Ramos, Quinta do Infantado, Quinta do Portal, Tuga, and Quinta do Silval.

Touriga Franca Styles

Touriga Franca is one of five grapes used in the fortified blends coming from the Douro Valley, simply known as Port wine.  As with other European winegrowing regions (think Bordeaux, Southern Rhone, Champagne, etc.), this style of wine is predicated on the belief that the sum is greater than its parts - blending different grapes creates a symphony rather than a solo.  Of course, port wine has been made for centuries (starting in the mid-1600s), which is an interesting aspect regarding Touriga Franca since the grape is a more modern entity.  Of course, the number and types of varieties used in port changed quite frequently in the early days, and the regulated style that we know today is a contemporary creation.  Today port wine most often leads with Touriga Nacional as the deep, brooding character, which also gives backbone to the wine.  Touriga Franca is lighter and fruitier than its cousin, giving port wine a bit of finesse to match Touriga Nacional's power.  As the esteemed wine writer Jancis Robinson aptly describes it when comparing port wine to the blends of Bordeaux - “Touriga Franca is the Cabernet Franc to Touriga Nacional's Cabernet Sauvignon”

Touriga Franca is increasingly being used as a single varietal wine or in the dry red blends that are gaining more and more popularity from the Douro Valley.  Increased knowledge about the grape, improved viticulture techniques and contemporary enology methods, are propelling these table wines, and the best may be yet to come.  Not bad for a grape that's only been around for 80 or so years.

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