Monday, January 07, 2019

Rabisco – Chewy, Portuguese, and (halfway) Autochthonal

Since it's the middle of winter (although it hardly feels like it these days), this is the natural season to consume a glass of that delightfully fortified product, Port.

Port, in the world’s least surprising reveal, originated in Portugal. Port is initially fermented like a typical wine, but a neutral grain spirit is added to stop the fermentation and leave some residual sugar in the mix, which ultimately conveys the sweetness to the stuff.

Practically all ports are blends. There are about 100 different grapes approved for use in Port making, but there are five primary native (or autochthonal, if you want to use the official terminology) varietals. The king of these native Portuguese grapes is a varietal called Touriga Nacional.

Touriga Nacional vines bear small grapes with a high skin to pulp ratio – meaning that the juice flavors tend to run to the powerful side. Touriga Nacional provides depth and color to most blends. Touriga Nacional vines are very fast-growing, but those vines have some of the lowest yields of any vinifera grape.

Although Touriga Nacional is generally considered the finest Portuguese red varietal, until the last few years it comprised only around 2% of Portugal’s total vineyard plantings. In the last decade, however, improvements in vine maintenance and crossbreeding have upped TourNac yields, and Portuguese winemakers have begun making dry red wine blends featuring it.

Enter Rabisco 2015 Reserva Tejo -- a dry red wine made from 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% from good ol’ Cabernet Sauvignon.

To break the wine’s name down a bit – Rabisco means “Scratch” in Portuguese. The winery from which this wine hails is part of an animal sanctuary and dozens of bird species pass through during migration. Most famously, storks winter in this region – and the wine label centers on a freehand pencil “scratch” sketch of one of these beautiful birds.

Tejo is the region surrounding the Tejo River, near the vineyards of the grapes. “Reserva” simply means that it’s a high quality, single vintage wine, but official aging or fermenting definitions aren’t attached to that term.

What’s this wine like? Well, for starters, it’s relatively inexpensive (as are many Portuguese wines) – retailing at $13. Not surprisingly, considering the skin thickness of the Touriga Nacional grape, it’s a big, honking mouthful of tannin, especially before the wine’s had time to open up. Decant for half an hour if you can. The Cabernet adds some dark fruit – blackberries and currants – which are deepened by the TourNac – but it’s certainly no fruit bomb.

It’s a wine longer on tannins than richness, so if you’re looking for something with a lighter body but a bigger flavor punch – it would probably appeal. I would imagine that the combination is somewhat of an acquired taste. I thought it was worth a try – especially alongside a braised pork dish or a tapas-y spread of appetizers. The SPinC thought it was too punchy for her palate.

All in all, it’s probably worth a try if you like full-flavored red wines. For someone who wants the combo of big tannin without an associated jamminess, it’s a good choice, especially at the price point. Fans of either Bordeaux or California merlots/cabs might not be quite as enamored.

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