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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Get to know: Prosecco, Chianti, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, Vinho Verde, Pinot Bianco, Malbec, Torrontes, ice wine, Albarino, Muscadet Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Dolcetto
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