Best New Table Wines from Portugal

My tastings of table wines from Portugal this winter turned up a healthy number of characterful, food-friendly wines that manage to be warm and inviting despite their often brisk acids and substantial tannins. While there are still too many dirty, dilute or prematurely evolved wines shipped out of Portugal, as well as too many wines, especially whites, that rely too heavily on the oak berry, the best new bottlings are more conducive than ever before to international tastes while managing to retain their distinctive regional character. This is no mean trick!

Among the most positive developments in Portuguese table wines in recent years has been the growing number of varietal bottlings from indigenous grapes, especially wines made in the Douro region from varieties that have traditionally been used to produce port: touriga nacional, tinta roriz (tempranillo), touriga francesa. The best of these bottlings are among the most interesting newer-style wines made in Portugal today, even if in some cases the traditional blends from the same producers are more complex and complete than most of their single-variety bottlings. In the long run, these wines will do more for Portugal reputation than varietal wines from international standbys like cabernet and merlot.

Wines that did not make the grade in my recent tastings tended to be excessively rustic, overly alcoholic or sour on the finish, or gritty and excessively tannic. Some were simply overoaked. Even among those wines recommended on the following pages, many show somewhat sauvage aromas of meat, leather and less-than-perfect wood. But these distinctly Old World wines also tend to have the acidity and structure to work well with food. Included in my notes are a number of juicy, fresh vinho verde bottlings, Portugal's high-acid, low-alcohol, often spritzy "green wine," an ideal and shellfish wine. While the samples of vinho verde that came my way do not generally match the best estate-bottled Alvari?os from Spain in intensity or sheer mineral cut, they are also considerably less expensive, and the best of them offer terrific value.