When it comes to dessert wines, Portugal's Douro Valley produces some of the most highly regarded and longest lived. In the past, it was not uncommon to buy a barrel of port from your child's birth year, to be enjoyed when they reached the age of consent. But when the popularity of port began to sag, Portuguese wineries started expanding dry wine production. The first arrivals were bargain wines priced under $10, but more recently they've upped the ante. Here are the panel's top-three upscale Portuguese red picks:
2009 Dow Vale do Bomfim Reserva, $24
Dow is a top port house (its 2011 scored an impressive 99 points from Wine Spectator) and Vale do Bomfim is one of its best vineyards. This wine, built around the touriga nacional grape, reflects that pedigree. The aromas are an enticing mix of dark berry, cinnamon bagel, toffee, mocha, anise and dried flowers. Smooth and elegant, the ripe blackberry and blueberry flavors are matched by racy acidity.
2010 Quinta do Crasto Reserva, $39
With a history going back to 1615, Quinta do Crasto is one of the oldest port houses. This reserva is a blend of some 30 different varieties from vines averaging 70 years of age. The nose is an intriguing mix of dusty, dark berry and buttery grilled beef. It's a seamless wine--round and well balanced--with a hint of spicy oak, intense red fruit flavors and a lingering finish.
2010 Vallado Vinho Tinto, $23
The Ferreira family started making dry reds 20 years ago, more recently selling its famous port house. A blend of indigenous Portuguese varieties including touriga franca, touriga nacional and tinto roriz (aka tempranillo), this wine opens with chocolate-scented ripe berry aromas, colored by a touch of cola. The palate is smooth and creamy with sweet cherry flavors, anise accents and smooth tannins.