Portugal is justifiably known for Port. The sweet, fortified wine has a long history: The Port trade with England dates back to the 17th century.
But, let’s face it, Port is a very specialized product, not something that wine consumers drink every day. Now Portugal is racing to fill that everyday need, too. Production of table wine is booming in Portugal, and exports to the United States were up 21 percent in the first half of 2014, compared to the same period in the previous year.
These aren’t the Portuguese rosés, like Mateus and Lancer’s, that many baby boomers will remember from their youth. Those wines are still produced, but they are eclipsed by a wave of good-quality table wines made from a dizzying array of grapes. There are more than 250 Portuguese grape varieties, and the country’s winemakers have mostly stayed loyal to the native grapes, rather than embracing “international” varieties like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
Increasing amounts of table wine are coming from the steep, dramatic Douro River Valley, the home of Port wines. The hot climate produces wines that are ripe and robust, but the best wines also have a surprising freshness. Many also display notes of mineral or graphite. The Douro’s red grapes are some of Portugal’s best known, like touriga nacional, touriga franca and tinta roriz (the same grape as Spain’s tempranillo).
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Symington Family Estates — the largest vineyard owner in the Douro, with nearly 2,500 acres — produces Port under such labels as Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s. The company also makes the Altano table wines. The 2011 Altano Quinta do Ataide ($16), made from organically grown grapes, is dark and dense, with ripe yet lively black fruit, notes of anise and mineral and fine tannins. The less expensive 2012 Altano ($11), the “regular” bottling, is also good but not as complex.
The Symingtons have also formed a partnership, Prats & Symington, with Bruno Prats of Bordeaux. The flagship wine, Chryseia, is pricey, but there’s also the very affordable 2011 Prazo de Roriz ($16), which is structured and full of blackberry and spice.
Quinta do Noval’s 2009 Cedro do Noval ($22) offers ripe berry, a slight dried fruit note and hints of licorice and dark chocolate. At Ramos Pinto, the table wine is called Duas Quintas; the 2012 ($16) is young and fruity now but has the intensity to age for a few years. The 2011 Portal Colheita Tinto ($18), from Quinta do Portal, displays lively berry fruit and berry compote, accented by a note of anise.
Quinta de Maritavora is a small estate with certified organic vineyards. It produces the delicious, fullbodied 2010 Maritavora Colheita ($19), awine with spicy berry flavors, a licorice note and a long finish.