Top Picks from Wines of Portugal

Remember Mateus? Back in the 1980s, quality table wines from Portugal were rare as hens teeth. Today, that hen has a full Cheshire-cat grin. With 200 indigenous, tongue-twisting grape varieties, Portugal has lots to offer adventurous tasters. Not only are there unfamiliar grapes to explore, like peachy Alvarinho; light-bodied, raspberry-redolent Castelão; and herbal powerhouse Touriga Nacional. Portugal also offers millions of microclimates. Though only 140 miles wide, its climate changes rapidly as one moves inland. Along its 600 miles of coast, mild temperatures prevail and a good 40 inches of rain fall, whereas the upper Douro reaches a blistering 120ºF in the summer and gets only 4 inches of rain. (That’s why those famous Douro vineyards hug the river, looking to its cool waters to mitigate the heat.)

Among the 51 producers at the tasting, presented by Vini Portugal, we particularly loved these:

Quinta da Aveleda 2009 (Vinho Verde), a 100% Alvarinho from Aveleda. Michael Weiss, a professor of wine studies at the Culinary Institute of the Arts, calls Vinho Verde “the best white-wine values in the world” and we would agree. This one is perfect for summer, with a lovely bouquet of pears and peach, mouth-watering acidity, and distinctive minerality. (Tri Vin Imports)

Casa de Santar Reserva 2008 (Dão), a blend of white grapes, with Encruzado in the lead, from the producer Dão Sul. Yellow plum, citrus, and vanilla offer a tasty, full-bodied wine that could stand up to first-course plates. A real heart-throb. (Grape Moments)

Symington Family Estates (Douro), a leading Port producer, had two wonderful table wines from the Douro: Prazo de Roriz 2007, a winning marriage of earth and fruit, using Touriga Nacional (Portugal’s national pride) and Touriga Franca (its most widely planted red); and Pombal do Vesuvio 2007, another concentrated, layered red. (I’m now really looking forward to our visit to the Vesuvio estate this September on our Port tour.) (Vineyard Brands)

Alves de Sousa (Douro). We were smitten with just about everything from this producer. Their secret is the 80- and 100-year-old vines they resurrected. As its name suggests, Abandonado 2007comes from a formerly abandoned vineyard; it’s superb and unique—an opaque, hedonistic red with herbal, minty notes. Quinta da Gaivosa Vinha de Lordelo 2007 is an equally inky blend from their oldest vineyard—what the winemaker calls “a small madness,” due to its low yield. Like most producers in the Douro, they also make Port, and their 10 Year Tawny was the best I’ve ever tasted in this age category, with a tinge of cinnamon spice adding interest to its nutty character—unusual for such a 10-year tawny We’ll definitely be adding this estate to the wineries we visit on our PASSION FOR PORT tour! (No U.S. importer yet.)

Ramos Pintos (Douro) Vintage Port 2007 and 2000 are what it’s all about for Port lovers. The 2007 is spectacular, though it hasn’t integrated yet. Happily, while Port sales overall have been flat this past decade, the premium categories (like vintage, LBV, and aged tawnies) are up 30%. That’s good news for Port fans, who want this captivating drink to live and prosper forever. (Maisons Marques & Domaines)