Obscure Wine Grapes: Touriga

Touriga Nacional is an ancient Portuguese varietal that was probably introduced to the Iberian peninsula by the Phoenicians. It's a black grape that typically has high tannins and very concentrated fruit flavors. The grapes are most famously used in the highest quality ports. Touriga is also used to produce red wines in the Douro region of Portugal.

Touriga was introduced to the Texas Hill Country some years ago. The grape is currently being used in some iconoclastic blends put out by winemaker Dan Pullum at Sandstone Cellars in Mason.

Sandstone's motto is "Terroir for Texas." The winery has released a series of intriguing blends using grapes from the Rhone and warm regions of the Mediterranean. Each is identified by a Roman numeral.

The first of Sandstone's Touriga wines was a "port-style" dessert wine called Sandstone Cellars IV (2006). That wine sells for $40 at the winery. I recently tasted the not-yet-released Sandstone Cellars VI (2008), a stunning blend of Touriga, Barbera and the not-quite-identical twins, Zinfandel and Primitivo. (The price hasn't been determined yet.) This is an intense inky red with lots of acid and a fruit flavor that's somewhere between dewberry and pomegranate. It tasted great with a garlicky homemade gruyere cheeseburger on toast.

There's limited availability, but some Sandstone Cellars wines are sold at Hubbel & Hudson Market in the Woodlands. The best way to get your hands on these exceptional, hard-to-find Texas wines is to visit the charming town of Mason in the Hill Country and buy some at the winery.

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