While there are some tastings I do not look forward to each year, there are others that I can’t wait for. For the most part that means things like Barolo and northern Rhone Syrah, but it also includes the greatest set of value wines I get to sample each year; inexpensive Portuguese red wines!

Now, admittedly that’s a pretty broad category of vino, or vinho as the case may be. There is no other single country where i would make a statement like that, though Portugal is fairly compact as far as wine producing countries go. But still, would it not be wiser to talk of the Douro and Dao, instead of generalizing and including Bairas, Tejo, and the rest of Portugal's wine producing regions?  Of course it would, but one doesn’t have to. While the style of wines produced around the country is diverse, the quality is quite uniformly high and the styles of wines being produced almost has more to do with who is producing it as opposed to where it is produced.That’s not to say that terroir doesn’t play its part in portugal, just that modern and traditional wines are being produced throughout the country, and while certain regions have been big promoters of international varieties as of late there is a decided movement, in at least the wines that come to our shores, highlighting the indigenous treasures of portugal.
 
To a large extent that means Touriga Nacional, which is very likely the grandest variety grown in portugal, but it also means that wines made with less familiar grapes are being rediscovered and prized for the unique profiles of the wines they produce. 
 
Consider:
 
Castelao -  popular, and successful in the south of the country where it produces vibrant, red fruited wines that retain the rustic edge of the region. 
 
Jaen - from the Dao, a real workhorse of a grpe though at it’s best it can produce juicy, black fruited wines that are delightful easy to drink due to their modest tannins.
 
Trincadeira - the problem child, so full of peppery spice and floral perfumes, but sometimes difficult to ripen, even under Portugal’s fine climate.  The Petit verdot of portugal!
 
Touriga Nacional - we all know it from port, but on it’s own or in a blend it produces violet laden wines with wonderful blue fruits laced with licorice and firmly structured, yet elegant and refined. 
 
And that’s just a glimpse of what lays in Portugal’s arsenal. 
Once you move past the grapes, and the climate, which is hot and dry for the most part, conducive to ample yields, firmly structured, and deep wines, and big fruit, you come to the winemaking. Portugal, like much of Europe, has a long history of extended oak ageing for their red wines, though here in this warm climate that ageing was often quite justified. Not only do many of these grapes have thick skins, to better endure the unrelenting sun, that deliver formidable tannins, but the heat and dry climate often produce tiny berries that have a very low juice to skin ratio. The resultant wines needed an extended slow oxidation to help soften them and make them palatable. Today that is rarely the case, though the long ageing does persist in some place and with some wines. These legacy wines are sometimes dried out, but you also can happen upon wonderfully appealing, bright, juicy and softened wines that harken back to an earlier time. Greater attention to hygiene in the cellar distinguishes these wines from their counterparts of just a few decades ago, but the live on in that vein and make for some terrific food wines.
 
At the opposite end of the spectrum one can find modern wines of many stripes. Cool fermented, stainless steel aged examples that celebrate their fruity nature, or barrique aged examples that might also incorporate some international varieties. These modern renditions generally have more fruit that the more traditional examples, and while that may not always be preferred, it is one of the great features of these wines. You see the combination of Portuguese varieties, with Portugal’s climate produce wines that can be intensely fruity. Not fruity in an over-ripe or candied way, just plain old fruity, like wines are supposed to be. Now sometimes that fruit is a bit much for my old, jaded palate but for the average wines drinker I can’t think of better wines, especially when you also consider the price. 
 
Yes, these are great values. for a number of reasons, and while I may often say that a particular wine is a great value wine, many of these portuguese wines are simply great wines that happen to be great values. Take your pick of any of the  top three wines here and compare them wines twice the price. I think you’ll find little qualitative difference. And as far as values go, take that Grao Vasco and compare it with any other $7 wine, I don’t think that you’ll find one that is better.
 
I’ve written about my love for these wines before, and I shall write about it again but it’s all for naught unless someone out there reads what i’ve written and tries a few of these wines. You may not be as convinced as I am, though if your palate was honed on Italian or Spanish wines from the 1980s I wager that you just might be. So take my challenge and try the great red values of portugal, then let me know what you think. Maybe next time I’m writing about these wines I can recommend the wines that you all will recommend to me!
Imported by: Wine Enterprises LLC NJ
Touriga Nacional, Castelao, Tinta Roriz, Trincadeira
 
Juicy and dark on the nose with aromas of moist tobacco, vanilla, a hint of dried fruit, some stemmy herbal notions with hints of old wood and blue plum skins. A bit rich on entry, this sorts itself out quickly in the mouth with lovely bright integrated acids and ripe, polished tannins perfectly woven into the fabric of the plummy, boysenberry fruit. A bit on the lighter bodied side, this is super easy drinking with a bit of blueberry emerging on the backend which is silky with just a hint of bitter chocolate and some dusty tannins emerging on the modest finish. The finish gains length pretty quickly with peppery hints complementing the bitter cocoa notes and dark cherry fruit. This is delicious and simply a pleasure to drink.  90pts
 
Imported by: Iberia Wines & Spirits Ct
 
Aromatically this is very interesting with gamy, beefy aromas laced with notes of dried apricots, honeysuckle, a hint of black pepper and dark oak spice all bound up in rich raspberry fruit.  it is not completely unlike a northern rhone Syrah. Rich, polished and smooth in the mouth,this is both a bit brighter and more transparent than many modern styled wines from Portugal. It’s got some attractive inner mouth perfumes and medium plus body with flavors of blue plums and wild black berries on the palate nicely supported by well judged tannins and that acidity that adds freshness even as the creamy cafe au lait oak pops up on the backend. Nicely focused right through the moderately long and nicely fruit driven finish. Very impressive from a region that gets little attention. 89pts  
 
Imported by Aveleda Inc. RI
 
Dark and focused on the nose with wonderful floral aromas that recall candied violets coupled with layers of sweet, toasty oak and spicy, plummy fruit bound together with cinnamon and holiday spice. A touch soft on entry, then this really flows slowly across the palate with black fruit, medium plus body and plenty of underlying tannic grip. This is juicy with black cherry fruit but also hard with a hint of mineral spice and underlying wood spice. it’s a wine that should continue to age well for several more years but already is delicious and well balanced with a modest finish and the lowish acidity being the only low points. people should love this. It’s a fabulous party wine. 88pts
 
Imported by: Broadbent Selections SF
40% Tinta Roriz, 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Barroca, 10% Touriga Nacional
 
A touch subdued on the nose though the aromas of vanilla, milk chocolate, dusty spices and dried cherries with a hint of espresso are both well balanced and very attractive. the nose gains lovely violet and plum aromas with a little bit or air. Smooth and subtle on the palate well with a touch of austerity reinforced with a nice drop of acid cut early on the palate followed by a silky, elegantly textured wine that shows off slightly dry flavors of dark berry fruit, spices and earthy, leathery undertones. Finishing with some tart cranberry notes that refresh the palate, this is a wine that could very easily get lost in a tasting but would shine at the dinner table with some coffee rubbed pork or pork with romesco sauce. This has some really attractive purity to it on the palate. 88pts
 
Imported by: Palm Bay Imports Fl
40% Castelao, 32% Touriga Nacional, 28% Touriga Franca
 
Pencil shavings and dried green herbs pop on the nose followed by astringent red fruits and rusty aromas.  On entry this is almost sweet for a second, rich with ripe fruit but the vibrant acidity quickly washes that away and offers a great contrast to the ripe red fruit which recalls strawberries, watermelon and cranberries on the palate. A bit simple perhaps, this is none the less juicy and bright with a lovely finish that is delicate yet fairly long and laced with licorice and medicinal flavors from oak ageing along with a  hint of rose petal. Juicy, energetic and fun to drink while retaining a fairly classic structural profile. 88pts
 
Imported by: Evaton Inc. Ct. 
A blend of unspecified percentages of Jaen, Tinto Roriz, Touriga Nacional
 
Bright, floral and simple on the nose though with nice depth to the vinous orange rind and white floral aromas. Smooth on entry, a bit lean but with a touch of flesh sticking to the the taut acid driven and dusty tannin laced structure. the fruit here is dusty and dry, austere with cranberry and raspberry undertones and a fine leathery, old book note of slight decay on the plate that adds complexity and a decidedly old school appeal here. The finish is modest, and this is basically a simple, fruity yet rustic wine but it’s very well balanced and has a lovely blend on intensity on the palate and well defined flavors. 87pts
Imported by: Winebow NY
40% Touriga Franca, 30% Tinta Roriz, 30% Tinta Nacional
 
A touch woody and slightly funky on the nose with a blend of chocolate, leather, and astringent red fruit aromas. Rich, smooth, low acid and polished in the mouth, this opens with some dry tannins covered in cherry and bitter chocolate flavors. the acidity is modest, lending this a rich, creamy feel in the mouth, and some heaviness on the finish which is rich with medicinal and wood spice character. It’s a chewy, bawny wine in the modern style. 87pts
 
Imported by: Polaner Selections NY
Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela and others
 
A bit candied on the nose with notes of cola, violet pastille and some gamy, leathery base notes laced around bright cherry and plum fruits. Soft, rich and easy going in the mouth,this is very well balanced with hints of coffee and wood spice supporting their plummy and dark cherry wild blackberry flavors on the palate. the tannins are modest and well balanced leading to a soft, creamy black cherry and vanilla laced finish. Modern and easy drinking without any excess of  flash or flesh. 87pts
 
Imported by: Winesellers Ltd. IL
35% Touriga Nacional, 35% Touriga Franca, 30% Tinta Roriz
 
A bit beefy on the nose with some herbs de provence notes and a nice base of dried cherry and blue plum fruit wrapped up in subtle oak shadings.  Juicy, bright and a bit chewy in the mouth, just past medium bodied this remains transparent and bright on the palate with good acidity and tannins that are a touch dry but that add a pleasant edge to the palate which is ripe with dark cherry and spicy blackberry fruit. there’s some tea and vanilla influence coming from the oak here, which turns out to be a bit too assertive on the long finish.  A bit burly in the mouth, some will find that aspect of this wine more attractive than I do, though i do find some very attractive fruit here.  87pts
 
Imported by: Iberia Wines & Spirits Ct
100% Castelao
 
This is downright fruity on the nose with a gorgeous bouquet of spicy, pomegranate, wild raspberry, and lingonberry aromas that gain hints of pencil shavings and brownies with air. Smooth and easy to drink, this is low in both acid and tannins with simple and slightly chewy wild cherry and raspberry flavors on the palate that turn a touch austere on the backend.  The fruit pops again on the finish picking up the spicy character and hints of pomegranate that show up on the nose. It’s a fruity wine but a bit austere and not sweet and it needs some simply grilled meats to show its best.  86pts
 
Imported by: Premium Port Wines Inc SF
50% Tinta Barroca, 20% Touriga Nacional, 15% Touriga Franca, 15% Tinta Roriz
 
Spicy and dark on the nose with hints of resin, raw meat, and lots of cracked pepper spice accenting the core of carob fruit. Soft, clean and pure in the mouth, this is not complex but has a great texture and subtle flavors that blend some red apple skins with earthy spice and some bright plummy notes. It’s a simple wine, easy to drink and well balanced in the mouth with a lovely slightly medicinal and darkly spicy note on the modest finish. 86pts
 
Imported by: Wine in Motion NJ
Trincadeira 40%, Aragonez 40%, Alfrocheiro 20%
 
A bit tight on the nose but showing lovely floral and spicy fruit aromas that are fresh and elegant with a  growing sense of fruitiness as it sits in the glass. Broad in the mouth, and clean with an initial blast of fruit that makes this feel a bit soft, but the structure pops out quickly making this brightly fruity, dry and a bit spicy in the licorice and mace end of the spectrum. The tannins here are a bit drying and the fruit simple and short, but this shows some nice energy in the mouth and finishes cleanly. The spicy aromas are the highpoint here. 85pts
Imported by: Evaton Inc. Ct. 
 
A bit inky on the nose and with suggestions of sweetness from new wood supporting smoke laced dark berry and cherry aromas that are topped with a floral note.  Round and polished in the mouth, this is a clean, fairly fruity and fairly modern take. there’s lots of fruit here, a bit plummy and spiced with some sour plum and tart cherry accents on the palate that lead to a dry and somewhat tough finish. the acidity and somewhat tough tannin are well covered in the mouth but become more obvious on the chunky finish, which has some sticky, fruity length to it.  Not bad, just a bit undistinguished though it remains a good value. 84pts
 
Imported by: Obrigado
A blend of unspecified percentages of Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Trincadeira
 
A bit frankly earthy on the nose with a raw, cola and spicy dried fruit character that is modestly sweet and smoky with underlying black cherry fruit. A bit soft in the mouth, lending this a sweetish tone on the palate that is supported by the sweet, spicy flavors. The acidity appears on the midpalate lending this some freshness, but it’s also accompanied by some chewy tannins that do begin to integrate with a bit of air. This is a bit perplexing because even though it has assertively dry and extracted feel to it, it’s clean and fresh in the mouth with a nice tart berry fruit on the finish. A bit rough going but not bad. 84pts 
 
Imported by: Tri Vin Imports NY
Aragonez 60%, Touriga Nacional 30%, Trincadeira 10%
 
Dark, caroby and heavy on the nose with syrupy aromas of dried fruit, charred wood, cinnamon,  and cola. Fresher in the mouth than the nose portends, though this is a bit round and impenetrable on the palate. Theres enough acid to lend freshness to the slightly gamy wild berry fruit, and firm little tannins emerge on the midpalate to support the coffee laced flavors of prune and plum on the palate, that lead to a short, tight and slightly dry if attractive finish. Undistinguished and a little heavy with tannins that build on the slightly hot finish. 83pts
 
Imported by: Iberia Wines & Spirits Ct
Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca
 
Pretty floral aromas on the nose compete with some raw wood notes for one’s attention.  A touch soft in the mouth, though big, round and seamless, this is a chewy wine with earthy, bitter apple skin laced, dry fruit flavors that come off as both a  bit tough and ungenerous. The finish is dry, short and tough as well.  There are some interesting flavors here but this feels forced and clumsy. 78pts
 
Imported by: Wine Enterprises NJ
Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz, Jaen
 
A bit shy on the nose with dry, dusty aromas and spicy, herbal toned floral notes with a bit of a medicinal/ pencil lead character and deep, jammy, grapey base notes.  Low in acid and dry in the mouth, this delivers some deep, chewy and slightly meaty flavors that are mostly from oak ageing. It's a  rustic wine with some spicy notes on the backend, but overall this is driven by dry tannin in the mouth and through the modest finish which shows off more medicinal and vanilla laced flavors along with lingering tea and tobacco notes and a touch of alcoholic heat.  Old school to the max. 82pts