For people who like to take an adventure off the usual wine routes, a trip to Portugal may be to their liking. While most people will immediately think of the Port-producing town of Oporto, there's a lot more to wine in Portugal than the most famous fortified wine producing region in the world.
The country is literally an ocean of wine, but by no means is it a wine backwater. With millions of bottles a year produced by the largest winery in the country alone, Jose Marie da Fonseca, and with a global distribution that matches the likes of California's own Gallo or Mondavi, one would expect the wines to be on a similar par. They're not. At almost every price point, but especially at the sub 10 Euro ($15) range the Fonseca wines would blow the doors off California's mass production wines and deliver a far better value. As the wines go up in price, the quality begins to remind me of the Rhone Valley, Languedoc/Roussillion region, or the Italian region of Umbria, as they were 10 to 20 years ago - underrated, undiscovered and mostly unappreciated.
After five days in Portugal, including one day in the Alentejo wine region about 90 minutes south east of Lisbon, I can safely say that the wines in Portugal would be some of the best match-ups with Mexican cooking and dining in California but also prove to be exceptional accompaniments to savory meats and fresh fish and shellfish.
Some of the wines from Portugal that really impressed me this week included the 2007 Casa do Lago Touriga Nacional rose from the Estremadura region is a dark pink, almost red in color wine, with a very rich and full bodied. The wine is not bone dry, but dry enough to be perfect on a hot summer day. It offers up lots of black plums, black raspberry and black cherry flavors. It is easy to drink and is the kind of wine to enjoy with barbecue spare ribs.
The 2006 Sol Loureiro Vinho Verde is_ made by Dirk Nierpoort one of the Port industry's luminaries. It has lime peel, lime stone, mint, grapefruit, lemon, pears and a hint of nectarine.
The 2004 Altano Reserva from the Douro region is from the Symington family, another famous port family. The big-boned red wine has black plums, blackberry, cherry, slate and tobacco flavors.
The 2006 Termeao Passaro Branco Bairrada delivers rich blueberry, toasted bread, bing cherry and tar. It all ends with a delightful red raspberry finish. This is a blend of local grapes and cabernet sauvignon, so think of a big-boned Napa cabernet, with gusto and life.
Another tasty red is the 2005 Dom Martinho Quinta do Carmo from Alentejo. It shows off very silky smooth berry flavor with a well developed gravel bar mineral quality, ending with a big fat and ripe red cherry finish, all encased in. cedar, coffee and plums.
Two wineries to visit in the Alentejo region of Portugal are Jose de Sousa (Jose Maria de Fonseca) in Azeitao (
) and Herdade do Esporao in Reguengos de Monsaraz (
). Both are easy to find from the main road and offer tastings and tours.
Andy Abramson writes about wine. You may e-mail him at