April 9th, 2014
12:05 AM ET
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Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.

What do Arinto, Baga, Castelão, Alfrocheiro, Rabigato, Códega do Larinho and Esgana Cão (which, rather evocatively, translates as “dog strangler”) all have in common? They’re all Portuguese grape varieties, which means they are grown in the place that is currently winning my award for most exciting wine country in the world that the U.S. doesn’t know enough about.
Wine’s been made in Portugal for at least a couple of thousand years. Wine lovers here tend to know about one or two Portuguese categories—the crisp whites of Vinho Verde, sweet port from the Douro Valley, fizzy pink Mateus in its oddly shaped bottle.

But there are terrific wines being made up and down the length of this country, white and red, from a plethora of local as well as international grapes. Plus, the quality of the country’s winemaking is at an all-time high.

Here’s a start: Four Portuguese regions worth looking into, with a recommended wine or two for each.

The hot plains of the Alentejo region in southern Portugal (it covers a third of the country) produce both old-school, dry, brambly reds as well as fruitier, full-bodied, more intense versions. They’re typically blends of red varieties, often featuring the Aragonês (Tempranillo) grape. The smoky 2010 João Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Reserva ($19) is a great example.

Whites are less common, but the tropical-fruited 2012 João Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Loios White ($9) is very good, and an excellent deal.
The Douro made its name with Port, one of the world’s great dessert wines. But in recent years the region has also been producing superb table wines, both red and white. The best are quite expensive, but at the affordable level there are some remarkable values.

The peachy 2012 Tons de Duorum White ($12), a blend of (get ready) Viosinho, Rabigato, Verdelho, Arinto, and Moscatel grapes, is one; so is the plummy, thyme-scented 2011 Prazo de Roriz red ($15), which kind of begs to be served with an herb-roasted leg of lamb.
A higher-altitude region surrounded by mountains in north-central Portugal, Dão produces elegant, aromatic red wines, usually from the Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz (another name for Tempranillo) varieties. The spicy, exotic 2010 Casa de Mouraz Elfa ($17) is made from organically grown grapes.

For a bit of a splurge, though, check out the herb-scented, polished 2009 Álvaro Castro Dão Red ($25), from one of Portugal’s best winemakers.
Vinho Verde
A region rather than a type of wine, cool, rainy Vinho Verde is located in northern Portugal, and produces tart, high-acid whites that, among other qualities, are ideal with seafood. (It also produces some equally high-acid reds that are pretty harsh going, in my experience.)

Inexpensive, basic wines from producers such as Aveleda and J.M. Fonseca are very reliable, provided the most recent vintage is on the shelf. And even the greatest Vinho Verde wines—such as the complex, single-vineyard 2012 Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho ($17) or the spicy, layered 2012 Anselmo Mendes Contacto ($21)—are still remarkably affordable.

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soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Carlos Pereira Gonçalves

    The largest importer of Portuguese wines is France.
    I wonder why...

    April 12, 2014 at 4:26 pm |
  2. Paul Simon

    As an American that lived in Portugal for 5 years, I must say that the wines you chose are great, but not by far the best ones produced in that lovely country. From the Alentejo region you have wines from Borba (both white and red) that are best value for money you could have! Grous and Peceguinha are to me the two best Alentejo winemakers but I haven't found them back home in Chicago. From the Dao region, Alvaro de Castro's wines are all great, no doubt the best winemaker from that region, but if you have the chance, try Casa de Santar Reserve, a fabulous red wine! The Douro region is the one I know worst but Crasto and Niepoort wines are great! I recommend to all my friends Portuguese wines and food, it's to bad (or not, since it retains it's charm this way) that people here in the US don't know that country better!

    April 9, 2014 at 5:52 pm |
  3. José

    Do not forget "Touriga Nacional"

    April 9, 2014 at 5:00 pm |
    • Carlos Pereira Gonçalves

      The Queen... It's almost impossible to do a bad wine with those grapes!
      (I also found strange the absence of mention to them)

      April 12, 2014 at 4:16 pm |
  4. Rui

    The portuguese wines are fantastic.

    April 9, 2014 at 4:18 pm |
  5. laxietoo

    How can you have an article on Portuguese wine without mentioning Madeira? I would think that to many people that represents Portuguese wine to them. Only those who are more adventurous would know of the other wines.

    Madeira is also a great place to visit. It's a long trip from the U.S. but so worth it!

    April 9, 2014 at 4:15 pm |
  6. farmfoodie

    Reblogged this on Farm Foodie and commented:
    I will definitely be putting some of these Portuguese wines on my "to drink" list for the summer. The "fizzy pink Mateus" sounds delightful!

    April 9, 2014 at 2:56 pm |
    • Tomas

      This fits as a glove to all US less informed citizens.

      April 9, 2014 at 6:35 pm |
    • Pedro

      And you won´t be sorry.

      April 11, 2014 at 5:08 pm |
  7. jorgerosa

    Great article. And the world´s greatest (but also unknown) wines are from Portugal, indeed !!! :)

    April 9, 2014 at 2:36 pm |
  8. Big_D

    I have loved Mateus for years.

    April 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm |
  9. mim

    Iowa is fast coming up as a wine/grape producer. Farmers are switching from corn and soy to grapes. There are well over 100 vineyards at last years count. The wines are typically sweet but none the less, adding to the cellars stashes. A note: Australian wines typically will give huge headaches due to the very high level of added sulfites. Unless you live there, the exported bottles are required to up their sulfite levels. Not cool.

    April 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm |
  10. Maria Silva

    There are many many more great wines being produced in Portugal. Just google for them and you will find them. Add their excellent cheese (many choices from all over the country) and you will be surprised.

    April 9, 2014 at 12:53 pm |
  11. palintwit

    Teabaggers add a little food coloriing to Everclear and then guzzle it out of mason jars. They think that's real sophisticated.

    April 9, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
    • Carn E. Vore

      D-baggers use the phrase "teabaggers" and think it makes them look like something more than small-dicked morons.

      April 9, 2014 at 5:41 pm |
  12. zzlos

    I have been drinking these wines for years – they are affordable (because no one know about them- yet...oops! ) and great quality. 13-14% Alentejo's are my favorite for dinner and I can drink bottles of light, bitter Vinho Verdes on a hot day!

    April 9, 2014 at 12:11 pm |
    • Pedro

      Right on the spot.

      April 11, 2014 at 5:10 pm |
  13. Jo

    I love wine! this is really cool article.

    April 9, 2014 at 10:50 am |
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