The typical wine store may have a Portuguese red or two, but the wines are not in wide circulation and usually not displayed prominently on store shelves. Many American wine drinkers may not have much experience with them.
Portugal’s whites are a different story. Fresh, inexpensive vino verdhe, or green wine, made from the alvarino grape, as it is called there, is a summer mainstay. And the country is most famous, of course, for Port, the fortified wine that put Portugal on the wine map centuries ago.
All of which made it even more pleasing to discover a first-rate Portuguese red — the 2003 “Tradicional” from Quinta do Alqueve. One of the criticisms of red wines from Portugal has been that they can be Port-like, suffering from a baked, over-ripe quality. But that’s increasingly less of an issue and is certainly not one here.
The wine — a great value at about $10 — is from Portugal’s Ribetajo region, about 40 miles north of Lisbon. Quinta do Alqueve’s Tradicional is a blend of four grapes: touriga nacional, tinta roriz (tempranillo in Spain), trainadeira and periquita. Now you can see why the names are not exactly household words.
To better understand Quinta do Alqueve’s Tradicional, think of a wine that is somewhere between a Bordeaux and a Burgundy. It reminded me a little of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, on the one hand, and pinot noir on the other.
If you are looking for a powerful, high-alcohol wine, this isn’t it. If it’s lean elegance that you want, this one fits the bill beautifully. The aroma suggests a fruit orchard in the fall, a ripe earthiness that instantly takes the mind to such a setting.
It continues in the mouth, where plum and blueberry come into focus, along with a hint of powdered cocoa on the long finish. The wine is barrel-aged for 12 months, and the wood influence is subtle. It is softly tannic with good acidity and is drinking beautifully now.
Food matches should be on the simple side. It went nicely with a grilled pork chop and some buttered rice. Grilled chicken and cold sliced lamb would be good partners as well. The wine was also delightful to sip by itself, slightly chilled on a warm summer afternoon before lunch.
I also liked another red from Quinta do Alqueve — the 2003 “2 Worlds,” which, as the name suggests, is a blend of Portuguese and so-called international varieties, in this case 50 percent touriga nacional and 50 percent cabernet sauvignon. The cabernet provides a more structured wine that went well with steak but was lighter than, say, a California cabernet sauvignon. The 2003 is the first release and it, too, is a bargain at $15. Both wines are imported by Robert Kacher Selections.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch