Meet the new port

Symington’s Altano| Lou Phillips

What do you think of when you hear the word port? I bet you picture the complex, rich and earthy, fortified sweet wine to be enjoyed as an after-dinner treat. That is correct because that is the only type legally allowed to be labeled as Port and, until recently, that is all that Portugal was known for in the world of quality wine.

But with Port consumption on the downswing for decades, Portuguese winemakers needed to vary their offerings. Fortunately, the same grapes that make Port, such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and myriad others, are also used to fashion their dry red wines from the Douro region in Northern Portugal.

Quality producers use the same centuries-old, steep, high-elevation, riverside vineyards as their grape sources. As a result, these dry wines offer the same delicious and complex characteristics as Port and often at a fraction of the price, mostly because the winemaking process is far less costly.

It is high time to look at these robust beauties that make for exceptional cold weather, by-the-fireplace imbibing.

It is high time to look at these robust beauties that make for exceptional cold weather, by-the-fireplace imbibing.

Vinho Verde | Lou Phillips

A good place to start is with the same producers that make Port. The Symington Family Estates wines are of high quality and widely available. This is the British family behind the Dow’s, Graham’s, Warre’s and many other brands of top-notch Port. The value brand of their dry wines is Altano. For about $10, you’ll be getting a mouthful of rich berries, smoked chocolate and minerals — just right for matching with roasted meats or a crusty pizza pie or warming the soul after a day of snow activities. At their higher end is Chryseia, which I find to be the equal of top-notch Bordeaux or Napa’s finest. It can be had for a fraction of the cost of the best from those regions.

Quinta do Vallado is another widely available producer of excellent examples and at a variety of price points. Their basic Douro bottling runs about $15 and punches way above its weight class.

Quinta do Vallado | Lou Phillips

Portugal also makes some interesting and yummy whites. The most well known are the Vinho Verde’s, which means young wine, and usually have a touch of bubbles that adds freshness. The versions typically available in the U.S. are made primarily from the Alvarinho grape, which is the same grape as Spanish Albariño. Another up-and-coming white wine is made from the Gouveio grape that makes richer more complex wines.

These are by no means all the dry wine types from Portugal but they are the ones you will find most often. They have a proven track record of making yummy wines.