Tinta Cão is a premium red grape used in the production of Port Wine - and had almost vanished from the vineyards of northern Portugal’s Douro Valley its traditional home. This varietal has been grown in the Douro Valley since the 17th century, but in general it is only planted in small amounts. Despite its lengthy history in the region, Tinta Cão’s decline was more related to its reluctance to produce a sizable crop, rather than any issues with its natural varietal character.
Tinta Cão translates to 'Red Dog', and is a grape varietal which is rediscovering its bark, you could say. This grape grows in small clusters of medium sized berries with thick skins and some resistance to sunburn and fungal diseases.
It is a lower producer in terms of overall crop size than the other key 'Port' grapes, except for Touriga Nacional. It produces wines that are lower in alcohol and have less structure than the other 'Port' varietals. It is used as a blending component to add floral characteristics to the nose and fruit flavours to the palate. It is the least planted of the key 'Port' varieties but is increasing in its popularity.
Tinta Cao is usually slow to mature and for some sites and winemaker - if keen attention is not given to get the grape physiologically ripe, the wines can be slightly aggressive and astringent.
It is viewed by some as the problem sibling of the Port Wine family with its small yields, lower alcohol levels, and a name that translates to ‘red dog’. It may not be the master of the Douro Valley, but the grapes personality brings a welcome light-hearted note to other varietals like Touriga. Tinta Cão‘s character is like fresh flowers in the rocky and rugged landscape, and by those in the know for some styles of Port’s - a best friend.
Tinta Cão is making a comeback, with acknowledgment of the fact that the variety is amongst the very best of the more than 50 approved grape varietals allowed to be used to make Port wines - and is now one of the five officially recommended red grapes. In a more traditional style of red wine, it provides grace and supports long aging potential. The resulting wine is a less strong than others, but brings a sweetness with floral notes to the palate, along with pepper and spice to the nose.
In the Dão region, this grapes quality is evident in the perfect balance between tannins, acidity and sugar in the juice, along with its firm but ripe quality tannins and its bright colour. It is frequently blended with Touriga Nacional and Aragonez, amongst others.
Tinta Cão is one of the best adapted to the Douro valley’s hot and dry conditions. It is very reliable, maintaining its vigour even on very poor soils. The tiny compact bunches of small berries produce long lasting wines with crisp acidity and a velvety texture, which can sometimes be tough and austere when young, but develops great finesse with age. Even though Tinta Cão is the least widely planted of the top red Port varietals due to its very low yields - it is attracting growing interest as its qualities become better understood.