Driving through the Portuguese countryside in the Alentejo wine region, you could be forgiven if you momentarily thought you were in the Texas Hill Country—the sunbaked hills of granite and limestone of eastern Portugal have a striking familiarity. With so much in common, it is no surprise that the grapes that thrive in Portugal have found a welcome home in Texas vineyards.
Lewis Wines, outside of Johnson City, was an early adopter of Portuguese grape varietals. “I started working with Portuguese grapes like tempranillo, touriga nacional, tinta cão and tinta amarela in the first vineyard I ever worked at Pedernales Cellars,” says Doug Lewis, co-owner and winemaker at Lewis Wines. “I thought all of those varieties just grew better than grenache, cabernet sauvignon or sangiovese, and I liked the wines. When I started making my own wine in 2010, I chose a touriga nacional, tempranillo and tinta cão blend and it was named one of the wines of the month in Texas Monthly.”
Because his early viticulture experience was with these Portuguese grapes, Lewis chose touriga nacional, tinta cão, alicante bouschet and arinto for his vines when he planted his own vineyard. “They are all experiments on our estate,” says Lewis, “but the experiment is going well.” Lewis also now manages the nearby Round Mountain Estate, which is also planted primarily with touriga nacional, tinta cão and tempranillo.
Beyond taste, Lewis prefers the Portuguese varietals for his Hill Country vineyards because they are more disease resistant and produce consistently high-quality grapes.
In addition to using touriga nacional as a blending grape in his Round Mountain Reserve and Round Mountain Rosé, Lewis Wines also produced a Touriga Rosé this year and just released a Hill Country White, a blend of albariño and verdelho. For future release, Lewis is experimenting with two fortified wines—a port-style red and a Madeira-inspired white from arinto and albariño.
Lewis Wines isn’t alone in their enthusiasm for the Portuguese grapes. According to the USDA 2019 Texas Wine Grape Varieties survey, plantings of touriga nacional and alicante bouschet increased by 283 percent and 322 percent in Texas, respectively. Winemakers like Pedernales Cellars, Southold Farm + Cellar, William Chris Vineyards and McPherson Cellars are also incorporating these grapes into their regular offerings in styles from a slightly sparkling pétillant naturel to complex red blends. With so much versatility, expect to find more Portuguese varietals gracing Texas wine labels soon.
By Kristi Willis
Guide to Portuguese Grape Varietals
Portugal shares many grape varieties with neighboring Spain, but often has a different name or spelling for the varietal.
Texas Winery Portuguese Varietal Offerings