Wine Time

Dennis Sodomka is a guest columnist | Contact Dennis

Wine Time: Churchill's Estates Touriga Nacional 2009, Portugal

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COST: $29-31

WHAT: Touriga Nacional is the best-known grape in Portugal, the grape considered most important in making Port, one of the best-loved wines in the world. It adds intense flavor, aroma and color to the wine.

Since the late 1980s, when Portugal modernized its wine industry after joining the European Union, winemakers have been increasingly using Touriga Nacional for dry table wine. The Churchill’s Estates is a great example of this.

If you grew up in the 1960s or 1970s, if you thought about Portuguese wines at all, you had about two choices: Port and Mateus Rosé. Most of the table wine was made for local consumption and virtually unknown in theU.S.

As capital began to flow into the country in the 1980s and 1990s, vineyards were improved and production facilities modernized. The quality of the wine soared.

Now even prestigious Port houses are making table wine for export around the world.

Wine drinkers are grateful that at last we are getting to taste the incredible Touriga Nacional grape in a table wine. The Churchill’s Estates is a deep garnet in the glass, with a lively mineral nose that has hints of basil and eucalyptus.

As you taste it, the wine unfolds layer after layer of luscious flavor. It is dry, with solid tannins that don’t overpower the wonderful flavors of raspberry, plum and cherries. It finishes with a crisp acidity. As you sip the wine you can almost see the rugged hillside vineyards in the Douro region where it is grown.

The thick-skinned grapes come from gnarled, old vines that produce small amounts of tiny berries. Because the vines have to struggle to survive on the rocky hillsides, they produce intense flavors in their grapes.

The wine is aged for 12 months in used French oak casks.

I would open this wine at least 30 minutes before drinking, and decant it if you can. It is drinking nicely now, but should age for at least another 4-5 years.

I expect American wine lovers to hear a lot more about Portuguese wines in the years ahead. Just as Spain produced a flood of very good wine at very low prices, Portugal’s wines have increase in quality and quantity.

Portugal’s bottle table wine shipments to the U.S. have increase by about one-third since 2006, rising to one million cases a year. Most of the top wines from Portugal are red, but there are also some outstanding whites, including Vinho Verde and a nice wine I just tasted called Pomares White.

WINERY: Founded in 1981 by John Graham as a Port house, Churchill’s has a short history compared to other Port shippers, most of which go back more than 200 years. It was the first British Port company to be established in more than 50 years.

Graham’s family has been making Port since 1820, but he wanted to produce his own individual style. The company was named after his wife, Caroline Churchill.

The company bought the Quinta da Gricha vineyard estate on the south bank of the River Douro in 1999, and has made all of its ports in the winery’s traditional “lagares” or granite tanks built in 1852.

Churchill’s Estates launched its table wine business in 2004 and released its first wine in 2005. In addition to the Touriga Nacional it produces an estate red, a rosé and a single estate from the Quinta da Gricha. The wines are imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons.

GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, and I had this with thick-cut pork chops from the grill, with baked potatoes, creamed corn, corn on the cob and salad. It was incredible.

The subtle fruit flavors were perfect with the pork and the spicy rub and sauce I used. This also would pair well with other red meat on the grill, spicy Latin food and pasta with tomato sauce.

WINE EVENTS

THURSDAY, AUG. 8

Wine and tapas tasting, 5-6:30 p.m., La Maison on Telfair, 404 Telfair St.; four wines and three tapas; $19.99; (706) 722-4805

FRIDAY, AUG. 9

Wine and beer tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463

Wine tasting, 6-8 p.m., Evans Towne Market, 4460 Washington Road, Evans; several wines, cheese and crackers and live music most Fridays; $5; (706) 303-8591

SATURDAY, AUG. 10

Wine and beer tasting, 2-6 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463

THURSDAY, AUG. 15

Wine tasting, 5-8 p.m., Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; three whites and three reds and several cheeses; $5 with rebate on purchase of one bottle of the featured wines; (803) 279-9522


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