Rabigato has its origin in the Douro wine region of northern Portugal, where it is grown almost exclusively in the ‘Trás-os-Montes’ in the Alto-Douro and in the Douro-Superior area, in the far east of the region.
The name Rabigato comes from ‘Rabo de Gato’ which means ‘cat’s tail’ - this refers to the bunches typically being relatively small and long in length. The first historical records of Rabigato date from 1532, coming from the Portuguese Rui Fernandes who was the author of a famous work titled ‘Description of the land around Lamego two leagues’ - which although it does not exclusively refer of relate to just wine, it is regarded as an excellent source of information on this varietal.

 

Though this is now changing - historically the grape wasn’t frequently being made into a varietal table wine. Where the resulting typically has a fresh, vibrant character due its natural high acidity and equally high alcohol, though they can age extremely well. For many it is more commonly found in White Port, where it is blended with Gouveio, Viosinho and Malvasia Fina to name a just a few pf the local traditional white varietals.
Currently new plantings are occurring - but as of 2010 census, there was around 2500ha planted in Portugal. Despite being cultivated in several regions, and authorized in many Portuguese appellations of origin, Rabigato gains special emphasis in the Douro, Porto and a notable presence today in Trás-os-Montes.
Recent DNA testing has suggested a possible genetic link with Tinta Francisca - further testing is still on going. But what should be noted, Rabigato should not be confused with ‘Rabo de Ovelha’ - which is also known locally as Rabigato in the Minho wine region of north-western Portugal. The connection and use of the same name is difficult to understand, since each varietal bear little resemblance. It is a varietal that matures early, and that shows medium vigour and productivity. Rabigato prefers dry soils and moderate extremes in climate.
Planted throughout the Douro Superior, this is one of the Douro's best white grapes, contributing bright, refreshing acidity to white blends. When it is vinified as a single variety, its aroma is reminiscent of acacia and orange blossom, with vegetative notes and a strong mineral character, with a full body and good acid structure. This variety is known for its medium-sized narrow bunches with small yellow-green grapes. In the Douro region, this grape is considered by the next generation of winemakers as a promising varietal. So, the next time you are dining, or choosing a glass of wine, keep an eye out.